Brandwashed: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: September 28th, 2011 by bobmorris

Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy
Martin Lindstrom
Crown Business (2011)

What the most effective marketers know about consumers, how they know it, and why consumers should be concerned

Others have shared their opinions of this book and their opinions certainly cover a wide spectrum. Some praise or criticize Martin Lindstrom’s writing stile, others praise or criticize his premises and conclusions, and still other praise or criticize both. I’m going to pass on the writing style and focus on what I consider to be among his most important points.

Marketers face much greater challenges today than ever before in terms of attracting and then sustaining the attention of consumers who find themselves buried by “blizzards” of information conveyed by thousands of daily messages that create “clutter.” Lindstrom explains how marketers are responding to those challenges.

First, they create or increase demand for what they offer with implicit rather than explicit tactics. Vance Packard wrote about “the hidden persuaders” in a book bearing that title, first published in 1957. In Brandwashed, Lindstrom examines what could be characterized as “the stealth persuaders.” For example, we learn that shoppers in American department stores who are exposed to Muzak with a slow tempo shop 18% longer and purchase 17% more than do those who shop in silence. However, in fast food restaurants, Muzak with much faster beats is played “to increase the rate at which a person chews.”

Marketers are also making highly effective use of the latest technologies, notably functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to identify what consumers really want even if they don’t as yet know it. Electronic measurement of the brain (especially the functions of the subconscious mind) suggests reveals what does and doesn’t attract and retain attention, what does and doesn’t appeal initially, what does and doesn’t sustain appeal over time, etc. According to Lindstrom, this is the context within which to understand the “tricks companies use to manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy.”

Here are the titles and subtitles of the book’s first four (of nine) chapters:

1. Buy Buy Baby: When companies start marketing to us in the womb
2. Peddling Panic and Paranoia: Why fear sells
3. I Can’t Quit You: Brand addicts, shopaholics, and why we can’t live without our smart phones
4. Buy It, Get Laid: The new face of sex (and the sexes) in advertising

It is by no means a stretch of the imagination to consider the implications and potential impact of all this with regard to federal, state, and local elections that involve both selection of public officials and acceptance or rejection of bond issues.

Whatever Lindstrom’s inadequacies may be as a prose stylist (FYI, I think he communicates very well), he has made a significant contribution to our understanding of how much more difficult it is to influence not only the purchase-decision process but indeed any process by which opinions are formed, decisions are made, information is shared, etc.

 

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