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.

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