Buyology Roundup


Both the traditional press and bloggers have jumped on Martin Lindstom’s Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. The opinons range from fascinated to horrified, and dismissive to enthusiastic. We learned that the scheduled 60 Minutes segment on Buyology was cancelled in favor of covering the global economic meltdown, but the mere fact that the CBS news show filmed a segment on a marketing book indicates the interest in neuromarketing. (I previously reported on the NBC Today Show coverage.) Here’s a sampling of opinions on Buyology:

Wall Street Journal: Science Comes to Selling – “Neuromarketing… does seem to foster a culture of “inauthenticity”: It disrupts identity itself by bypassing the conscious mind and targeting aspects of the self over which none of us has control. By coupling advertising’s tendency to humanize commodities and commodify humans, it joins other forces working to erode the authentically human. It fits right in with disturbing contemporary trends, such as the tendency for Internet game-addicts to treat online avatars as more fully human than their own spouses or children. “Mad Men” is a lightly cynical prime-time soap opera. By contrast, “Neuro-Marketing Men,” opening in the not-too-distant future at a theater near you, might just be a horror flick.” -Andrew Stark

TIME – “Quintessential Lindstrom… His new book is a fascinating look at how consumers perceive logos, ads, commercials, brands and products.”

Ad Age: Ad Experts Not So Quick to Buy Into ‘Buyology’ – Marissa Miley quotes a range of neuro-skeptics. She begins with Advertising Research Foundation CEO Bob Barocci, who pompously dismissed the book by stating the ARF does not review “pop” books. Miley even dug out someone from Commercial Alert to suggest that neuromarketing couldn’t possibly be ethical, but finishes with a quote from someone who hadn’t read the book, “ARS Group President Ashley Grace, who has not yet read Buyology, is skeptical about marketing that relies on brain scans and the unconscious. ‘It’s more sexy, it’s technologically innovative, but is it innovative research? Or is it technology? I’m not disparaging, because we’re interested in it as well,’ he said, ‘but how does it work?'” It wasn’t clear if anyone Miley interviewed had actually read the book – two quoted sources were identified as not having read it, and several others may or may not have.

The Washington Post: Buyer, Beware – “When he’s not trying to sell his own research, Lindstrom can be a charming writer. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of advertising history and an abundance of real-world business experience. Unfortunately, in Buy-ology, he gets seduced by the explanatory power of brain science. Perhaps his next experiment should look at why those pictures of the cortex produced by brain-scanning experiments can make people believe such silly things.”

USA Today – “Picture a mad scientist in his laboratory, cackling with glee as he tries to unlock the secrets of the human mind. Now, consider the unsettling possibility that the scientist may be on to something.”

And, from the blogosphere: – “Attention marketers: Forget consumer focus groups and surveys. Instead, increase your market research budget and go for a little neuromarketing research. It might just save you a costly failed product launch or teach you why interacting with your brand needs to be equal to a religious experience.”

Stephanie Fierman – “The problem with these books, in my opinion, is that they underestimate the average consumer. In other words, both Buying In and Buyology assume that a consumer accepts everything at face value and would be shocked to learn that marketers leverage shoppers’ feelings, beliefs, aspirations and worries in ‘non-rational’ ways.”

Say it Better – “Appealing to our fears is a successful way to sell, Lindstrom discovered from his brain-based, three-year, $7 million study. Many of the products that are pitched at us activate the brain’s fear center, the amygdale.”

Social Marketing Panorama – “Regardless of whether reading about this makes you shake with anxiety or excitement–or some of both–it is indeed fascinating. I think the results have implications for how both commercial marketers social marketers and go about supporting behaviors.”

I have to close with Jonah Lehrer’s comment in his blog post which reprints part of his Buyology review in The Washington Post:

The Frontal Cortex “You know mirror neurons have jumped the shark when they’re used to explain Abercrombie and Fitch.”

  1. kpitonak says

    That’s excellent! Just waiting for the book from ebay. Thanks for this post.

  2. Terry Frazier says

    I read this book as in-flight entertainment last week. While I enjoyed it, I also found it full of contradictions. First, Lindstrom tells us that marketing surveys are outdated and largely useless, yet he quotes numerous marketing surveys as proof points for his assertions. Which is it, surveys are good or surveys are bad?

    Second, Lindstrom appears at various times to be asserting that all products are inherently equal and the only thing that matters is how they are pitched/marketed/branded. At other times he is espousing his belief in “ethical” advertising that doesn’t misrepresent products. Which is it, products are nothing more than their branding, or branding is just a way to communicate the inherent qualities of the product?

    I agree with Stephanie Fierman — I doubt seriously that a woman with four kids and a Subaru budget is going to be shopping for a Mercedes convertible because she has an emotional connection to “Teutonic quality.” Some percentage of consumers may well be mindless automatons that react to stimulus like an amoeba, but I have trouble believing that’s the majority.

    I came away from the book with two conclusions:
    – Lindstrom’s 3-year, $7 million study revealed some interesting insights into how the human brain perceives images and associated sensory stimulation
    – Mass market branding and advertising is still primarily the art of BS.

  3. Roger Dooley says

    I think subconscious influence only carries a product so far – clearly, people have to have some interest in the category as well as the means if they are to be converted to a buyer.


  4. Babs Abolarin says

    Hi Martin,how does smell induce purchase?I’m trying to understand the theory behind scent branding for corporate organisations.Anybody with the required information can please help.Thanks.

  5. Nick Trendov says

    Here we go again…Buyology is the same old, same old, worse than the contradictions of the prior post.

    To save time I’ve posted here, worth the reference links and worth your time.


  6. Nick Trendov says

    Re: …theory behind scent branding for corporate…

    The best work around ‘scent’ has been done by Luca Turin. Either look him up, check Amazon or


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