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Advertising to the brainBY INGE KJÆRGAARD
Martin Lindstrom, Danish marketing guru and author behind the Buy-ology book.Marketing is no longer “just” based on interview surveys and clever messages that engage consumers’ emotions. The brain has come into play – and the name of the game is neuromarketing.
Can warnings about death make people smoke more? Apparently. Experiments have shown that warnings on cigarette packs do not make people smoke less – they actually stimulate smokers to smoke more. This surprising discovery was published in October in a new book about a new concept in the branding world: neuromarketing, which is where science meets marketing. You measure in the brain the advertisements that work – and those that don’t. And one of the things the book deals with is smoking.
The writer of the book, which is entitled Buyology, is the international marketing guru Martin Lindstrom. The Dane, who lives in Australia and travels the world, is dealing with the interesting cocktail of science and marketing. It throws new light on how we decide what we want to buy, from food and cigarettes to mobile phones, or how we vote for political candidates, and why we do it.
Martin Lindstrom got the idea for the book and the experiments when he was working on his previous book BRANDsense.
“I realized that it is almost impossible to interview people about their relationship with their senses – we simply don’t have the vocabulary it takes to express things. Shortly thereafter I happened to read an article in Forbes where neuromarketing was written up as a cover story. That’s when I realized – this is it – I have to create Project Buyology,” says Martin Lindstrom.
Professor Gemma Calvert of Bath University in the UK has conducted some of the experiments on which the book is based. And she also sees great potential in using neurology in that way.
“I saw problems with focus groups – people affect each other – and they affect each other’s answers. Perhaps you get the answer you would like to hear – but it is not necessarily the truth. Perhaps people just say what they believe they think, or perhaps they find it unpleasant to say what they really think. If we don’t see through these things and look into the brain, we won’t find out what people really think,” she says.
For such a small area which has been examined, scanned and discussed for so many years, scientists still do not know much about the brain. But new discoveries are constantly being made – and the Buyology book is a further leap in research.
Up to now, the vast majority of marketing, advertising and branding strategies have been based on quantitative and qualitative studies. But the fact is that about 80% of our purchases are unconscious – and we actually cannot quite explain why we buy a product, even when we are specifically asked in a study. It can mean that a company pours millions into an advertising campaign that perhaps only partly works.
Over the last three years, Martin Lindstrom has made a comprehensive study using sophisticated techniques, but even a marketing guru like himself who has worked professionally with the subject for many years, was surprised by the results.
“I was surprised by the fact that subliminal advertising works even better when we’re not aware of it. I had a feeling that it worked, but that it is so powerful as I learned throughout the experiments was a shocker, I mean we’ve in fact discovered that subliminal advertising is more powerful than ordinary ads, logos, TV commercials, you name it,” he says.
When Martin Lindstrom hatched the idea for the book, he contacted Professor Gemma Calvert, who thought the experiments he had in mind were interesting.
“I have worked with marketing before – and we had some experiments that we could use for Martin Lindstrom’s book. So it was not unfamiliar to me at all. The results on the other hand were quite surprising,” says Gemma Calvert.
Martin Lindstrom used two different techniques in the experiment – one technique using EEG, another using fMRI – two fundamentally different techniques, since one measuring brain waves while the other measures blood oxygenation.
“We combined the neuromarketing research programme with quantitative questions before and after the scanning to compare the neuro-results with the verbal results,” Gemma Calvert explains.
fMRI involves volunteers lying in a gigantic scanner wearing headsets and in one case tubes in the nose for exposure to smells. At the same time, the volunteer is looking at illustrations or watching movies on a large screen and has a finger placed on a panel to give responses. The responses are used to detect where important reactions are taking place during the test and track them in the brain maps. The other experiment involves volunteers wearing helmets – again while watching TV shows or other stimuli – all signals in both instances are recorded in giant computers and thereafter scientifically evaluated.
It might seem a bit strange that a marketing man suddenly starts thinking about high tech scanning.
“It’s kind of natural, I’ve done this for many years. My first book was about the internet. I didn’t have a clue about the internet in 1995, but I learned about it and combined this with branding and created a new discipline. The second book was about retail, same story. The third about kids – again I had little knowledge about kids, but a lot of knowledge about brands,” says Martin Lindstrom. “And now neuroscience. I tend to stay 50% within my field and stretch myself 50% into a totally new one in order to expand the field overall.”
But bringing neurology into the world of marketing raises another, ethical issue.
Will consumers’ minds be taken over if the advertising industry suddenly starts scanning their brains and targeting their advertisements accordingly? Is it not a slippery slope?
Martin Lindstrom believes it is an area that will develop rapidly – and that companies will make extensive use of it. And that is exactly why he has raised the issue and brought it into the public domain.
“This helps the ordinary consumer to understand what really goes on. And it helps the governments to set the regulations and laws,” says Martin Lindstrom.
But naturally it is a giant bonus to companies. It can help them to understand what really works – and what is a complete waste of money.
“Advertising as we know it needs to change. We’ve reached a level where probably 80 percent of all communication today is a waste of money, the problem is that we don’t know which 80 percent. We’ve now learned that the future of the logo is kind of fading away, we’ve learned that most of the methods now used for almost 100 years are out of the window, kind of neat to know considering that around 100 billion dollars are spent on this every year,” says Martin Lindstrom.
But he also thinks we should be careful. “There should most definitely be rules around neuromarketing and guidelines for who you can scan, how and what you can expose people to. There should also be rules for the type of products you can test, tobacco for example. It should not be allowed to be included in neuromarketing tests, in my opinion,” he says.
Gemma Calvert also thinks that the experiments Buyology is based on are important to consumer protection.
“We make people aware of the techniques companies are using. Naturally everything is open to corruption, but when companies can use scanning to affect our purchases, it is important that we find out how to counteract it,” she says.
The Buy-ology book among new releases in a New York bookstore.