Read: Buyology Branding Book

Ever since I started on this minimalism and zero waste journey, I've been fascinated with how and why we buy things.  I read Spent by Geoffrey Miller and found the book to be very insightful.  In the book, Miller states that we buy what we buy to display any of the following 6 human traits with each other: general intelligence, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, stability and extraversion.  We believe as humans that our own personality traits are not enough to showcase these and instead we need to use things and brands to supplement its display.  By accentuating these traits, we increase our chances of survival and mating which is the core of our needs as humans.  We want to be liked, we want to be seen as smart, we want to be seen as someone who makes good judgement so that others may not take advantage of us. and we want to be seen as potential good mates to others.

This week's recommended reading is Buyology by Martin Lindstrom from 2008, but it still has a lot of relevance in today's society.  Lindstrom goes into what really influences are buying decisions.  In the age of 24 hour tv, fingertip access to the internet, we are constantly bombarded with advertisements.  How do we differentiate one from the other and which of these influence the brands we patronize and the products we buy?  Buyology is a great introductory branding book.

The crazy rush of pleasure we may experience from the anticipation of buying...may actually help us enhance out reproductive success and prepare us for survival.  Consciously or not, we calculate purchases based on how they might bring us social status - and status is linked with reproductive success. (Buyology, Lindstrom)

While Miller's study revolved around evolution and the psychology of buying, Lindstrom took a different approach and instead peered into brain imaging to see which advertising method engaged the brain more.  I'll summarize these various methods and reveal Lindstrom's findings.

Product Placement

We've seen in it movies and in our tv shows, products and brands placed subtly in the show.  In Lindstrom's research, product placement rarely works as the viewer processes so much other visual information that a product in the background gets lost.  He did find that if a product is a main feature in a storyline such as the car brand used for a long getaway or if other show props are used in the brand's colors or shapes, brand recall is much higher.

Mirror Neurons

A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires when an animal performs an action in front of an observer.  The observer will mirror the same action in the brain.  This is akin to seeing a mannequin or a poster of a stylish woman.  She is dressed in the latest fall fashion, cool jeans, a light scarf.  She looks young and fresh.  Many of us will want to emulate that same look and feeling and end up purchasing those same clothes as a way to mirror what we see. 

Subliminal Messaging

In the past subliminal messaging were snapshots of ads or words designed to pass below the normal limits of perception.  These were popular in the 50;s but have since evolved into slightly different kinds of subliminal messaging.  In today's context, subliminal messaging doesn't involve displaying ads or text for a few seconds or putting a small audio bites, Subliminal messaging now involves venues with brand color schemes or brand themes.  For example, companies like Marlboro cannot outright advertise tobacco, but they can pay a restaurant or a club to use their brand colors and themes to decorate their venue.  The Marlboro red can be a very subtle reminder of the brand.  Without a logo in sight, we let our guard down thinking we are not being advertised to, but we are subconsciously.

Ritual, Superstition

Some rituals may stem from an accident such as the Corona and lime, but rituals relating to family benefit our mental and physical well being.  So when we come across certain products that promote and encourage a specific ritual at home, we tend to remain loyal to those products and brands.  Rituals and superstitious behavior are so ingrained in our culture and daily lives that we often don't even think about why we are doing them.  In some cases, we are just on auto pilot when selecting a product.  Think about your first cup of coffee in the morning.  There is a ritual and a brand associated with it.  Perhaps it's that stop at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.  These bring you a sense of comfort and belonging.  This is the same with Oreos where there is a specific act associated with it that we can't find with any other product to substitute.

Faith, Religion, Brands

Lindstrom also found in his tests that some brands create a type of religious or cult like following.  In his testing, he found that religious symbols and certain brand logos engaged the same areas in the brain.  Think Apple, Nike.  Some of these brands have such a following that it can sometimes be thought of as it's own religion.  People line up for hours to get their hands on it.  These brands release products under a shroud of mystery emulating a little of the same mystery found in religion.

Somatic Markers

Advertisers can create somatic markers in consumers minds by guiding their emotional behavior based on past experiences.  For example, Johnson's No More Tears Baby Shampoo is marketed to evoke how you feel when you get something in your eye, the stinging and the redness and that it's something that you want to make sure your baby avoids.  Somatic markers are a collection of reflexes from childhood which may include hard lessons learned, fear and pleasure. These markers allow you to make decisions quickly based on those past experiences.

Selling to Our Senses

Have you ever passed by Abercrombie & Fitch or Auntie Anne's Pretzel?  Smell is one way to sell stuff.  Advertising is not only visual, it can involve all of the other senses.  It's the smell of the Crayon, the Tiffany Blue box, the sound of the Kellogg's Rice Krispy's Crunch and the Nokia ringtone.  

Sex in Advertising

We see this often, using sex to sell almost every thing.  While sex engages the mind, Lindstrom's research showed that there is a point to where sex can be used as a tool to market.  Celebrities may dull the message of the product or the message becomes too saturated as it competes with so many other sexual messaging being presented. So if sex and beauty don't necessarily sell products, why are they still used?  The answer lies in the mirror neuron.  Most consumers want to feel of being cool, attractive and desirable and goes back to our need for survival.


While it's hard to avoid advertising, we should be aware of how we are being marketed to so that we can make our own judgements and choices.  By understanding the tips and tricks, we can prepare ourselves to refuse things we don't need.  This is one of the ways you can be proactive when starting our minimalism or zero waste journey. Understand what's needed, what you value instead of getting caught up in what companies are trying to get you to buy.

It's easy to follow the status quo and believe everything and anything that is presented, but we all need to start questioning and peering behind the curtains.

Check out Buyology by Martin Lindstrom from your local library.


Other Books to Read

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