Raise your hand if you feel like you see too many advertisements on a daily basis. If you’re anything like the average person in the modern world, you see hundreds if not thousands of marketing-related messages per day. If those ads all made a noise, you could be forgiven for believing that there was a locust plague heading your way.

The sheer quantity of advertising means that each individual ad is less effective at capturing our attention, and more importantly, staying in our memories. So, what do we do about it? How do products cut through the noise and make an impression? How do new brands carve out enough attention space to become successful?

The usual approach, one that marketers have been using since the beginning of advertising times, is the focus group. Get a bunch of people that resemble your target audience in a room and ask them questions about the products they like and if they would be interested in the new product. If they respond positively, the launch moves forward. Seems like a pretty good idea, except there is one fundamental flaw, what people say they think and what people actually think are not always the same thing, in fact they are seldom the same thing.


To get to the bottom of this, and to find out what the brain actually thinks and how it actually responds, Martin Lindstrom, a world famous marketing and advertising guru, set up a three-year experiment using fMRI and SST brain-scanning technology. He and his researchers brought in consumers and watched how their brain activity changed when presented with different brands. Their findings, making up the content of the book Buyology, were eye-opening.


The goals of the study were vast: does product placement work? Do warning labels on cigarette packs make people less likely to smoke? Does sex sell? In what ways are brands like religions? How powerful are other senses (smell, sound, touch) in marketing?

I won’t tell you the answer to those questions since it would eliminate the need to read the book which would be a shame since every square inch of the book is packed with examples of brands and products that either succeeded or failed, sometimes spectacularly. The most valuable part of the research is to see exactly how brains respond, without the filter of culture and human consciousness. Brains are honest, and by monitoring activity across the different lobes and neural centers, Lindstrom and his team were able to associate brands with how they truly make people feel.

For a book that is rooted in science, it is a little light on reporting the results of Lindstrom’s test, maybe that’s on purpose since the multi-million dollar study was funded by eight international companies who probably wanted to keep the information to themselves.

Buyology‘s strongest point is probably how quickly it reads. Lindstrom doesn’t waste time going in to incredible detail, he cites examples and moves on before the subject gets tired or drawn out. So if you’re working on launching a new product or trying to better the positioning and efficacy of your marketing efforts, give Buyology a chance to improve how you approach the subject.

Buy Buyology on Amazon.

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