Home > Marketing > Unintended consequences: don’t blink, it’s buyology

Unintended consequences: don’t blink, it’s buyology

Ever see cigarette warning labels in Europe?  They’re pretty gross (pictured nearby).  Think they work?  Surveys of smokers say yes, but interviews with their brains say no.   In fact, researchers have found that warning labels actually trigger smoking stimulus. Talk about unintended consequences.

So says Martin Lindstrom in a new book called Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy.  Market researchers scanned the brains (think MRI) of smokers and found that warning labels seemed to indicate an inclination, rather than aversion, to smoking during viewing.  This despite indicating on a survey that those same smokers felt warning labels had the same effect. What does that mean for your market research survey?

What’s more fascinating is that Lindstrom suggests the survey takers weren’t lying, but rather the marketing messages we see every day influence our brains subliminally and often in ways our conscious cognitive reasoning would otherwise reject.  Meet neuromarketing.  

In Malcolm Gladwell’s 2007 book Blink, about how we “think without thinking” Gladwell describes a taste test conducted by Pepsi that demonstrated cola drinkers overwhelmingly preferred Pepsi to Coke, yet in just about every market, Coke is by far the dominate soft-drink maker.  How can this be true?  Perhaps it’s just a sip – and that drinkers prefer a sweeter drink when sipping, but less sugar when downing the whole can – hence Pepsi wins the sip battles but loses the cola war to Coke.

In Buyology, Lindstrom drives deeper to uncover how marketing, packaging and brand power may just subliminally influence cola drinkers to favor one over the latter.

It’s a fascinating read, and if you’re looking for a new marketing book to devour, this one just might be your ticket.  Separately, the Foreword is written by Paco Underhill, who several years ago published a book called “Why We Buy:  the science of shopping,” which is another great read I’d highly recommend.

Pressed for time and can’t read them all?  Try the audio book on iTunes and listen to it while you get a workout done or drive to work.

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2 Responses

  1. Farida Harianawala

    Sounds like an interesting book. I've always believed all research should be taken with a pinch of salt — too many variables and biases affect how they're conducted, on the part of both those who design surveys and those who take them. Our minds are also so powerful and complex, it's entirely possible to deceive our own selves and cook up justifications for things we want to do anyway, despite the facts — which is probably what is at work in the cigarette warning label example. I'll look out for the book though my current reading list is so long, I'm afraid I'm going to need another lifetime to read all of them. :)

  2. Frank Strong, MA, MBA

    That's an interesting point Farida and certainly that does happen — deceiving oneself. What I found so fascinating about this is that it's not deceit at all, but rather our minds unconsciously work in a different manner that is more easily influenced, or perhaps influenced differently, by marketing. It's almost a little scary.

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