Buyology, the truth and lies about why we buy

If you don’t read another book this year, read this one by Martin Lindstrom. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, read a couple chapters. If you still can’t get around to that, he’s got a website so you have no excuse whatsoever.

Fascinating bit of work, I must say. Lindstrom thought it was worthwhile to track buying habits by how advertising affects us and used MRI technology to track what we think we want versus what our brain actually desires. There’s more to it than that, obviously, but it’s a fabulous read.

One of the studies he took on was checking how effective product placement really is. He used the example from E.T. where Elliot lures E.T. out of hiding with clever use of Reece’s Pieces. Spielberg only used them after the makers of M&Ms declined the spot and sales of Reece’s Pieces went through the roof afterward. He tracked how useful it was on the set of American Idol because Coke is the theme of the set and everyone important was drinking it, and even the sofas take on the gentle curves of the pop bottle, apparently. I’ve never watched it. Coke makes a killing by making itself essential to the show. So does the cell phone company that allows text voting, although it doesn’t perform as well as Coke. Ford, the third major sponsor, wasted a fortune on ads that haven’t really boosted sales at all because they aren’t an integral part of the program. Lindstrom suggests that Ford could have even offered mugs to runners up with their logo on it and done just as well.

The parts I really liked, though, were the chapters 5 and 6 that deal with superstition and religion. KitKat bars in Japan, for example, were cleverly marketed as lucky charms. The name is close to kittu-katsu which means something like “I hope you’ll win.” The Nestle company, which manufactures them there, went so far as to create a place on their website where people could send prayers to a higher power. They also introduced KitKats sold in a sky blue wrapper with “Prayers to God” printed on them.

Direct deity intervention with a product doesn’t always garner direct success, though. Lego got into a tangle with an advent website that didn’t take into account time zones properly so kids in Australia and New Zealand couldn’t operate the site. But that wasn’t the biggest problem. It looked like Lego was promoting a religious agenda. Lindstrom was working for Lego at the time and realized then that religion and consumerism don’t always mix.

He mentions Vodafone’s arrangement to make Pope quotes available to subscribers, but I see that’s not the only added service they provide. They have astrology and tarot for the less holy, too, and many other perks that would no doubt rack up the monthly bill.

Lindstrom thought it would be worthwhile to figure out what religions and marketing have in common (pg111) and came up with ten things –

a sense of belonging, a clear vision, power over enemies, sensory appeal, storytelling, grandeur, evangelism, symbols, mystery, and rituals.

Belonging is an obvious one for marketing. Many Harley Davidson owners feel a camaraderie with other lovers of their motorcycle and brand in general. They can get kind of evangelical when talking about the greatness of it, too. Clear vision for a business means having a clear goal in mind for the direction to go with it, and how to bring buyers along for the ride. Power over enemies/the Us versus Them mentality. Think hard core Apple users. “Once you go Mac, you never go back,” as one of the faithful once told me. And, the iconic look of the Apple symbol is never confused with anything else. Sensory appeal in marketing can be anything from the distinct colour of a Ferrari, or scent of perfume or feel of fabric. For storytelling, Lindstrom uses Disney for the obvious comparison but those who sell products with a “green” or “organic” stamp are also promoting a story to back their products and make them seem worth their price. Grandeur is part of both St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome and casinos in Vegas. Mysteries from a marketing standpoint can be a simple secret ingredient, or the assumption there is one. There are mysterious “scientific formulas” for hair care or anti-wrinkle cream, too. As to rituals, look at how Guinness and Corona are marketed – by careful timed pouring for the perfect head and the addition of lime for the perfect taste.

Lindford did a study with sixty-five male subjects and asked them to rate their level of spirituality. Most of them ranked themselves pretty high so when Dr. Calvert hooked them each up to the FMRI to track their brain’s reaction to religious icons, sports stuff, and consumer goods, they found that stronger brands (iPod, Harley Davidson) lit up the same areas of the brain that rosary beads and Mother Teresa did. Sports stars, however, lit up the bits of the brain that connect to feelings of being rewarded, as did the religious imagery. They concluded that emotions that are experienced when people are exposed to religion match what they experience when exposed to many major purchasing desires.

Neat, eh?

I wonder if this helps explain why the marketing of Christian-focused merchandise is really finding its foothold now. Shopping for God is another good read, by the way.

About 1minionsopinion

Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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