CAUTION: do not read this story

Marketers know many of our buying decisions are irrational


Don’t read this. Danger. Back away. This story is toxic. Badder than bad. Not another word. We really mean it. Stop. This. Instant!

Still with us? Well then, maybe Danish marketing guru Martin Lindstrom is on to something with his latest book, Buy-ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. The book is the result of a US$7-million exploration of neuromarketing and the messy, unsettling and irrational processes that can determine votes, purchases and cigarette cravings. Do people, for example, smoke despite, or because of, health warning labels? Unlike the pseudoscientific supposition behind most marketing texts, Lindstrom went to the source: the human brain. He placed more than 2,000 volunteers in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners to measure what ideas light up which parts of the brain.

For instance, most smokers claim tobacco health warning labels cause them to smoke less. Their brains, though, say otherwise. When locked in an fMRI and shown those labels, blood rushed to the brain’s “craving spot.” They wanted a smoke. “Warning labels intended to curb smoking, reduce cancer, and save lives had instead become a killer marketing tool for the tobacco industry,” Lindstrom concludes.

A great self-marketer, his book pushes all the buttons. Does sex sell? No, but the controversy over sexy ads does. Is product placement in movies and TV effective? Rarely. Are focus groups useful? Not when what we say is trumped by our subconscious. And, yes, advertisements are still seeded with hidden subliminal messages. Scary stuff.

Lindstrom has just embarked on a 50-nation speaking tour to reveal “the brain’s deepest secrets.” Neuromarketing, he says, will “send shock waves throughout the advertising industries and businesses worldwide.” You’ve been warned. Like that does any good.


CAUTION: do not read this story

  1. The phenomenon you describe in this article is familiar to me as “counterwill”, which is described by Canadian theorist and parent educator Dr. Gordon Neufeld in his book, “Hold On To Your Kids”. (Vintage Canada, 2005)
    He defines counterwill as “an instinctive, automatic resistance to any sense of being forced. It is triggered whenever a person feels controlled or pressured to do someone else’s bidding.” It has an important function that is as probably as old as earliest tribal humans to protect “children from being misled and coerced by strangers”, and is a defence that “repels the influence of those outside the child’s attachment circle.”
    However, Neufeld demonstrates that it has become increasingly common to hear “You aren’t the boss of me,” from people of all ages, and correlates that with the loss of significant attachments in the lives of many in present society. See: http://www.gordonneufeld.com
    E Hatherell

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