Picture a mad scientist in his laboratory, cackling with glee as he tries to unlock the secrets of the human mind. Now, consider the unsettling possibility that the scientist may be on to something.

Marketing expert Martin Lindstrom is that scientist, caught up in the excitement of research in his new book, Buyology. Lindstrom first became aware of neurological marketing research through a Forbes magazine article, “In Search of the Buy Button.”

A difficulty of standard marketing research, Lindstrom says, is that people will not – or cannot – provide accurate information about their mental states.

When asked why they prefer a brand of soft drink, or how a warning label affects them, most people cannot give a straight answer. This, Lindstrom says, is the great advantage of brain waves.

    Warning labels on cigarettes don’t work. They stimulate activity in the part of a smoker’s brain linked to cravings.

    Traditional advertisements no longer create lasting impressions. By age 66, most people with a TV will have seen nearly 2 million commercials. That makes it hard for an ad to increase a viewer’s memory of a brand, despite the millions spent.

    Product placement only works when fully integrated. It works when Coke-bottle-shaped furniture is part of the set design on American Idol, for example, or when Reese’s Pieces candy was used for bait in the movie E.T. However, when a product is not integrated, such as FedEx packages appearing in the background of Casino Royale, there is no measurable effect with regard to viewer recollection of brand.

    Sex sells itself. Viewers of sexually suggestive ads did pay attention, but more to the sex than the ad. In one study, fewer than 1-in-10 men who saw a sexually suggestive ad could recall the product, while twice as many remembered the product in non-sexually suggestive ads.

    Successful branding functions like religion. Simple rituals, such as putting a lime wedge in a Corona or slowly pouring a Guinness, give the brand added cachet. Brands attract zealous followers – “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC.” Scans using fMRI technology showed that some viewers had the same neurological response to strong brands that they did to religious iconography.

    Subliminal advertising can be highly effective. When watching an advertisement, viewers automatically raise their guard against its message. With subliminal advertisements, viewers’ guards are down, so their responses are more direct.

    Marketing isn’t restricted to the visual. Many companies use smells to sell products. Fast-food restaurants and supermarket bakeries use artificial fresh-cooked food smells. Sounds also effect buying. A study showed shoppers purchased French or German wine depending on which nationality’s music was playing on store speakers.

Photo by Doubleday Business.

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