Summary of Buy.ology by Martin Lindstrom (Summarised by Paul Arnold – Trainer & Facilitator –


By Martin Lindstrom

(Summarised by Paul Arnold – Trainer & Facilitator –

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In a Nutshell

Fundamentally we rarely have rational control over why we buy some products and not others: our brain subconsciously chooses for us. Traditional marketing methods no longer work and the reasons we think we buy are deceptive.

Neuromarketing is the new key tool which will “revolutionize” marketing strategies in the future and help us understand the science behind why we buy.

Key points & Discoveries

Lindstrom writes of the “Largest Neuromarketing Study Ever Conducted” involving brain scans using fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and SST measuring electrical activity inside the brain which he claims to be the solution to all current advertising dilemmas and the answer to predicting whether advertising campaigns will be successful in the future.


ü  “Buyology” and how we understand our brain’s response to advertising is the key to why we buy.

ü  Product placement doesn’t work:  We have to be emotionally engaged in what we see. Product Integration, however, does work to an extent – if continuously brought up, focused on and emphasized subtly. Also if only competing against a few others.

ü  Subliminal messaging is everywhere and still highly effective. The effectiveness of a company’s logo is dying and the future lies in mirror neurons and logo-free advertising.

ü  Traditional research methods (e.g market research and focus groups) are misleading and can no longer help determine what consumers really want. Only a fraction of the brain is exposed in consumers’ rational thought of a product.

ü  A scientific link between brands and world religion’s exists, and emotional attachment stimulates us to buy.

ü  In an overwhelming advertising world of billboards, TV, mobile phone, internet and magazine, we are highly over stimulated. This causes us to shut-down part of our brains to protect it from the onslaught of advertisements. Thus visual stimulation alone in marketing is not enough; the combination of senses (sight, sound, and smells) is the most effective, although the senses must compliment or they are received negatively.

ü  Neuromarketing is the key to predicting future consumer desires and advertising success.  Predictions are that in the future, companies will be able to test an ad, TV show or product’s likely success on a sample of the population before wasting millions on producing a product which may never sell.

Book Summary

Lindstrom claims that market research is nothing but unreliable and misleading. He maintains that “how we say we feel about a product can never truly predict how we behave”. As a result the book is set out in a series of experiments conducted to prove, disprove or explore theories surrounding what drives consumers to buy (or not to buy).

The brain is deceptive. Using an experiment conducted on 32 smokers from around the world, fMRI results indicated that when shown a slideshow of images of cigarette packet health warnings, a “craving spot” within subjects’ brain was actually stimulated. This experiment, despite almost all subjects claiming they were affected by the health warnings, produced results which suggested they weren’t.  The warnings apparently had no effect on putting people off smoking, instead increased their desire to. This, the first of a series of examples, demonstrates that what we say we think or feel, is often not mirrored by our brain. Apparently the billions spent on health campaigns are actually helping the tobacco industry – 10 million cigarettes are sold every minute.

We may think we understand why we buy but looking closely at our brain suggests very differently.

1) Emotions win out
We assume we think rationally when we buy, but we don’t. Emotions cloud or decisions whether consciously or subconsciously.
E.g. A Princeton University experiment testing short-term vs delayed rewards, where subjects were offered $15 to receive in vouchers now or $20 in two weeks, despite the rational thinking that if they waited longer they would have more. The flurry of excitement at the thought of being handed $15 in vouchers there and then overcame logical thinking and most subjects chose the former option.

2) Product placement works if fully entwined into the programme
TV advertisements are becoming increasingly monotonous, uninspiring and boring. In 1965 the average consumer could remember 34% of ads on TV and what they were for. By 2007 this was down to only 2.21 ads remembered by someone EVER. Ultimately, our brains are so oversaturated by advertising that we block it. The population no longer watch nor listen, it is “only the ad break” between TV shows.

Companies are turning to Product Integration within media & entertainment and is predicted by 2010, $7.6bn will be spent on companies to involve their products in TV, music and film.

The experiment
Three brands, Coca Cola, Cingular and Ford all feature within the TV show American Idol. Coke has the largest coverage (60% of the time) via subtle product placement, such as the contours of the sofas resembling a Coke bottle or blatant advertising as the drink chosen by the judges. Cingular are mentioned each time callers call in to vote for their favourite contestant and Ford are the sponsoring brand features in ads during the break. Each of the volunteers were shown a sequence of 20 product-logos which included Coke, Cingular and Ford before and after having watched an episode of American Idol and an episode of another unrelated show (to act as a control). Whilst wired up to the SST brain scan their brain activities were measured throughout.

The results
Results showed that after having watched American Idol, the brands featured were remembered afterwards and served to inhibit memory of the other brands. For Ford, having watched the show, subjects remembered less of the brand than before – most likely due to it being featured during the break, so automatically associating it with being “just” an ad.

A “consumer’s memory of a product is the most relevant and reliable measure of an ad’s effectiveness”. (p48). A product needs to be woven into the show as part of the ‘storyline’ for it to be remembered.

3) Subliminal messaging  does work
Subliminal messaging has often had bad publicity and is considered to be ‘brainwashing’ the population or “contrary to the public interest”.

The experiment
Elderly people (60 – 85 years old) split into 2 groups were given a computer game to play. During this, one group had a series of positive words (e.g./ wise, accomplished) flash up on the screen and the other had negative words (e.g./ senile, diseased). Once finished, scientists measured the “swing-time” in their gaits (time with one foot off the ground).

The results:
Those who were in the positive group’s gaits improved by 10% suggesting that positive psychological stimulus can improve physical achievement.

The experiment
Subjects were exposed to a millisecond image of either a smiley face or an unhappy face before pouring and paying for a drink.

The result
Those who viewed the happier face poured more drink and were willing to pay almost twice as much for the drink as those who saw the unhappy face.

This phenomenon was called “unconscious emotion” where our brains can remember and recall an image or brand even before we have consciously realised what it is. Hence our brain ‘decides’ we will buy something, before we have consciously realised.

4) Logos no longer work

Lindstrom pushes further and proclaims that brand logos are dead and can even reduce sales of a product for being too garish, thereby causing the consumer to mentally shut it out as we know it’s purpose – to make us buy it. If an ad is understated, we let our guard down, and it might just have an impact.

To counter this, for e.g/ Marlboro use everyday objects and styles such as colour schemes, tiles with similar symbols to the Marlboro logo, ashtray designs and sofas in order to give the appearance of a Marlboro ad/environment without brandishing the logo anywhere. We only need a visual image that reminds us of a product/brand for it to seemingly imperceptibly register in our brains and cause an appropriate reaction.
(Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren & Marlboro are already doing this)

5) Ritual and Superstition help us have certainty in an ever changing world
Rituals are commonplace within our fast-paced unsettling society in an attempt for us to gain some control over our lives (e.g/ touching wood, not walking under a ladder… etc). Rituals within products give us an “illusion of comfort and belonging”.

Consumers have a sense of loyalty to a preferred brand, similar to a religious affinity, for products such as shampoo and coffee, or a biscuit, which encourages them to keep buying.

Oreo’s cookies have 2 ways of being eaten and Nabisco who manufacture them has partnered with the “Got Milk?” campaign. For consumers to associate a brand with a nationwide ritual, this brings with it a sense of familiarity and unity – hence keeping sales going.

6) Brands can be like religions, with their rituals

Similar to the theory behind rituals, a unity exists between consumers of the same brand, a sense of camaraderie, of loyalty, of being on a ‘side’.

The experiment
Fifteen nuns used in a brain scan test were asked to relive their most profound religious experience (whilst scientists monitored which part of the brain was engaged in activity). They were then asked to relive an emotional experience had with another human being, and the part of the brain involved was also examined.

65 men were then used to determine whether the parts of the brain associated with sports and sporting heroes were the same as those used when referring to religion. Before the test the men rated their spirituality from 1 to 10 and were then shown a slideshow of images of ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ brands interspersed with religious and sports imagery.

The result
An entirely different area of the brain shows activity when a religious scenario is imagined to when an emotional encounter with another person is thought of. The part of the brain which displays the most activity when viewing both ‘strong’ brands and sports imagery is exactly the same as when viewing religious images. Therefore, the way the consumer’s brains react to sports, ‘strong’ brands and religion is exactly the same. It was however the brands which showed the most activity in the decision making area of the brain, more so than the sports images. This makes sense as when subjected to products, we have to make choices as to whether or not we will buy them. As brain activity seemed identical whether referring to religion or brands, there has been a recent flurry of attempts at creating spiritual and/or religious products such as “Holy Land Earth” and “Spiritual Water”. Other companies have also begun incorporating traits of religion and mystery into their products, e.g./ Vodafone plan to  offer a daily text messaging services containing quotes from Pope John Paul II. Other

Another anecdote used is that of the mystery  X9 Factor. An employee wrote on a bottle of Unilever shampoo “contains the X9 Factor” and undetected millions of labels were printed containing this new ingredient. Once the supplies ran out, the brand was reprinted without this X9 Factor. The result was thousands of complaints, sales decreased and, despite none of the customers knowing what the Factor X9 was, some claimed the shampoo no longer worked!

Brands do however also behave similarly to religious icons; take MacDonald’s or the Nike ‘tick’. These logos are universal, and evoke powerful associations with the companies they represent, with consumers instantaneously knowing exactly what the logo stands for.

7) Use of multiple senses to ‘lock’ in a brand
Sight and smell stimulate our brain in the same way, thus visual advertising is not necessarily better. Visual images are most effective if combined with sounds and smell for a more complete experience of the product. The senses must complement each other and consumers are more likely to remember the ‘nice’ smells.

Examples of fragrances used already are
– Honeydew Melon in Samsung to encourage electronic purchases
– Meadow Grass in British Airways Business Lounge to simulate pleasant environment.

Uses of sound within the market
– type of music played in supermarkets can determine type of produce bought (e.g./ French music increases sales of French wine) as we subconsciously hear the music.

Our senses are the most powerful tools we have to determine what we feel about a product, use of sight, sound and smells together will revolutionise advertising in the future.

The experiment
A brain scan was conducted in which subjects were shown a slideshow composed of 4 different product categories: airlines, mobile phones, software and images of London city. Along with this, a selection of signature sounds associated to the four categories were selected (e.g./ the Nokia ringtone and Microsoft start-up sound). Images unrelated to the sounds were also shown to act as controls. The sounds were played in a 10 minute series alone, followed by the images alone and then slides where a sound was played along with the image displayed. This sequence was repeated 5 times with the participants scoring from 1-9 what their preferences were between sound, image or sound and image together.

The results
We can recall what we see and hear much better if our sight and hearing are stimulated at the same time compared with when they are working alone. Brain activity increases, suggesting we are paying more attention, when both sight and sound is stimulated. Therefore, if a well known logo is coupled with a familiar theme tune, the consumer will be much more likely to notice and remember the product.

Colour is very powerful in connecting consumers visually with a logo or brand. Colours increase chances of recognition by 80%.

8) A Solution New Product Development
Companies are notoriously bad at predicting how products will do in the market. Neuromarketing could be the solution to this as neuromarketing could help to determine how successful a brand will be. This will consequently save millions in attempting to launch products which will fail (8/10 product launches fail).

The experiment
4 groups of 50 men and women representing the general demographics of the US population were used in the SST brain scan. 3 TV shows, How clean is your house, a proven ‘success’, The Swan, a proven ‘failure’ and Quizmania were all used in this experiment in order to determine whether Quizmania, a British gameshow, would be a success if launched in the US. 2 groups watched the failure show and Quizmania, whilst the other 2 groups watched the successful show and Quizmania. [To reduce novelty effect, all the participants had watched an episode of both their shows the night before] Each filled in a questionnaire answering what the chances were of them watching the programme again and these answers were compared with the brainscan.

The results
The questionnaires didn’t reflect the differences apparent in the successful TV show compared with the failed show, which appeared ‘neck-a-neck’ via the questionnaires. The SST scans, however, showed results that mirrored the relative successes of each show. When it came to the highly visual, multicoloured, action-packed, loud, exhausting, TV show Quizmania on paper, the majority of the subjects hated the show and voted it the one they were least likely to ever watch it again. Their brains on the other hand showed intense activity, that they were engaged in the programme and actually “liked” it. The brain scans had accurately conveyed the show’s success in the UK.

Brain scans can be used in the future to surmise TV shows’ potential success within a wider audience, and this can be transferred onto all products, brands and advertising campaigns (if the companies in question have enough funding for neuromarketing’s expenses).

9) Sex vampires the brand
In 2005 a book was published which claimed that 1/5 used sexual connotations or innuendo in order to sell. Sex was considered controversial and had ‘shock-value’ hence grabbing the consumers’ attention.

The experiment
60 participants were divided into 2 groups, two of which watched an episode of Sex and the City where the characters discussed their sexual prowess, and the other two groups watched an episode of Malcolm in the Middle. Then, one group from each category (SATC and MITM) watched adverts which were sexually suggestive and the remaining two groups watched advertisements containing no sexual connotations. The aim being to see whether sex helps consumers remember a product.

The result
Those who watched the suggestive adverts were no better at recalling the products than those who didn’t. Further, those who watched the “sexually explicit” commercials remembered less of what they had seen. Evidently, the sexual innuendo stole their attention away from what the advert was trying to sell.

The experiment
Based in New-England, 400 subjects were shown a series of print ads images which had varying levels of sexual content (from raunchy cigarette ads to ‘boring’ credit card posters). The subjects were asked to mouse-click the area of the ad which first caught their gaze, indicating which part of it stood out the most.

The result
Men spent most of the time distracted by women’s breasts and rarely noticed the product logos first. Only 9.8% of men who viewed ads with sexual content could remember what they were selling. 20% of those who viewed ads with no erotic content, by contrast, remembered what the product or the brand was. Sexual content in advertisements therefore was considered to have diverted their attention away from the product in question. In women the figures are similar, only 10.85% remembered the products linked to the sexual ads whereas 22.3% remembered if no erotic connotations were made. Researchers dubbed it the “Vampire Effect” as it ‘sucks’ viewers’ attention away from the product itself.

Additional research conclude that women don’t appreciate ads which feature extremely beautiful women as it brings out insecurities and potentially makes them feel jealous or threatened, thus reducing their positive impact. Female consumers are more likely to identify to ‘normal’ people who are not perfect (e.g./ Dove “natural beauty” campaign) 53% of people were found to be more likely to buy a product which is advertised using symbols of “love” as opposed to 26% using “sex” symbols.  Lindstrom claims that in this era, sex is so accessible and over-commercialised that it has lost its shock-value.

10) Mirror Neurons helps us ‘associate’ into things/feelings

Mirror Neurons are the “future of advertising”. These nerves in our brains are responsible for the feeling we get when we relate to something we are seeing or thinking about (e.g./ when the heroine in a film cries, we feel tearful, or when our team scores a goal, we share their elation). Our mirror neurons allow our feelings or actions to “mirror” those of someone else, hence are triggered in our subconscious when we see some ads. Window shopping has the same effect and our emotions overcome rational thinking causing us to buy a product purely because we ‘‘like the feeling we get from doing so’’. Trends are set due to mirror neurons (such as the iPod, everyone else has one – I want one).

Dopamine is a chemical released in our brains which makes us feel a surge of happiness. This chemical is often released whilst shopping, making us feel good about purchasing a product that we see and are automatically drawn to, regardless of whether we can afford it. Seeing diamonds in the window will release dopamine as we like what we see and increase the chances of us buying it.

Purchases are linked to “reproductive success” and our status, we buy things which make us look good and elevate us up the social hierarchy.

11) Conclusion – Neuromarketing is the future
Most of our buying decisions aren’t conscious, only a very small part of the rational brain plays a part in the decision making (10% is conscious). All products in the future will be branded using brain scans prior to introducing them to the market but this will be initially very expensive and time consuming. Despite the cost, companies are already using neuromarketing e.g./ Christian Dior, Microsoft, Unilever. Finally, there is, as yet, still much to discover about the science behind why we buy – and neuroscience is leading the way.

Things to think about:

  • How accurate are these fRMI scans?  The slightest of movement, or mind wandering will affect the result. The mere physical ‘closing in’ of the machine could trigger feelings of claustrophobia which would radically affect the results.
  • Whilst Lindstrom have conducted a number of tests,  the science world are never content with new theories until other people have replicated the results,  all other factors that could cause the effect are ruled out and the null hypothesis has been proven out.  Thus does Lindstrom ‘jump the gun’ with his ‘dogmatic findings?
  • Likewise is he too dogmatic in his conclusions?  Isn’t life mostly shades of grey as opposed to black and white?

About slooowdown

Consultant in the fields of Relationships and Change
This entry was posted in Behavioural Economics, Brands. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Summary of Buy.ology by Martin Lindstrom (Summarised by Paul Arnold – Trainer & Facilitator –

  1. Thanks for posting such a thorough, thoughtful summary. You saved me $10.00 🙂

  2. You’re so cool! I don’t suppose I’ve read a single thing like this before. So nice to discover someone with some genuine thoughts on this topic. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This site is something that is required on the internet, someone with a little originality!

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