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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Review: Buyology

Buyology (kindle edition) is about the merging of Neuroscience and Marketing. If that sentence doesn't scare you, it should. Basically, the concept is that we'll take MRIs and other tools of neuroscience and use that to figure out what makes you buy certain brands.

Here's an excerpt:
Do you know why most modern supermarkets now have bakeries so close to the store entrance? Not only does the fragrance of just-baked bread signal freshness and evoke powerful feelings of comfort and domesticity, but store managers know that when the aroma of baking bread or doughnuts assails your nose, you'll get hungry --- to the point where you just may discard your shopping list and start picking up food you hadn't planned on buying... Some Northern European supermarkets don't even bother with actual bakeries, they just pump artificial fresh-baked-bread smell straight into the store aisles from ceiling vents.

In other words, we know now exactly how to manipulate you to get the shopping behavior we want. From aroma therapy to product placement, we can get our brands to stick in your mind. There's an interesting section there about American Idol and how Coca Cola uses it and integrates itself so completely into the show that the audience has a 60% recall rate. And most of it is very subtle, from the shape of the studio dressing to the color of the curtains. There's another section about how a Neuroscience technique was used to monitor viewer's reactions to show, and how despite an audience saying they hated the show, their minds were actively engaged, leading to a successful launch of a TV show.

With this arsenal of weapons at corporations' disposal, is it any wonder that the average consumer is helpless in the face of the barrage of advertising?
Most of us can’t really say, “I bought that Louis Vuitton bag because it appealed to my sense of vanity, and I want my friends to know I can afford a $500 purse, too,” or “I bought that Ralph Lauren shirt because I want to be perceived as an easygoing prepster who doesn’t have to work, even though all my credit cards are maxed out.” (kindle edition, loc 2512)

The tools in this book are highly sophisticated, so your neighborhood stores won't be able to do it. But corporations and political parties can and will use it. Now, you might think that if you knew about how it worked, you'd be immune, right? The truth is that these techniques probably work so well that they work even when you know what they are doing and how they are doing it. As an example, the warning label on cigarette boxes actually make smoking more attractive. And pictures of lung cancer? Even more so!

I guess this book is worth reading, and is hence recommended, but I definitely fear for the future. Fortunately, as someone who doesn't watch TV, my exposure to this is very limited. Perhaps if geeks got together and ran experiments like this and figured out how to make it work for us, we might be able to rule the world too.

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