Thursday, January 8, 2009

Book Review: Buyology by Martin Lindstrom

Nicholas Kinports (follow him on Twitter @ADMAVEN) has worked in the interactive technology world for over 15 years. He is the Digital Strategy Lead and founder of Chicago-based digital marketing firm lonelybrand, where he directs the creation and execution of digital marketing programs that generate measurable signups, conversions and sales.


Neuromarketing, as defined in Martin Lindstrom's Buyology, is the science of understanding the unconscious decisions our brains make when we encounter advertising. According to Mr. Lindstrom, these decisions are responsible for approximately 90% of consumer behaviors, therefore "the time has come for a paradigm shift [in advertising]" (Lindstrom, Page 195).

I'm not so convinced.

Though Buyology reads at an excited pace, and at 205 pages is entirely manageable in a weekend, it did not strike me as particularly insightful or game changing.

The purported "seven-million-dollar neuromarketing study" on which the book is based is loosly referenced throughout the text, and leaves out key details which may be useful in validating some of Martin Lindstroms more, how shall we say, extravagant claims.

Of particular interest are Mr. Lindstrom's back-analysis of expired campaigns using the neuromarketing framework. Take for example, Nationwide Annuities as detailed on page 198: "Another ad, debuted by Nationwide Annuities [during the 2006 Superbowl], starred the indomitable Kevin Federline, Britney Spears's ex-husband." You may remember the "Life Comes At You Fast" tag line that made this TV spot a huge success both on television and more so on the Internet, quickly going viral and spreading the Nationwide brand name via social media outlets. Unfortunately, Buyology does not care about that - nor does it touch on the groundswell of viewers who took time to share the Nationwide brand name. As Lindstrom states, "the brain scans revealed information of incredible value to GM and Nationwide Annuities: that their $2.4 million commercials not only weren't working, they were scaring people away."

In general, I feel any marketing book that purports to be a game changer or claims to know - without a doubt - what the future holds is by it's nature flawed. Neuromarketing has value, of that I have little doubt. As to whether neuromarketing represents the key to the future of advertising I am significantly less sure.

Topics Lindstrom did not touch on, and something that would be of much more interest and utility in today's world, is how social media affects the areas of the brain responsible for communication, collaboration, and identification with a product, service, or brand. Does socializing online and participating in communities allow us to be more or less subconciously receptive to brand messaging, and if so, in what ways?


Martin Lindstrom
Martin Lindstrom discusses Buyology on The Today Show (Thanks to @MelissaBP for pointing it out)
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