Skip to main content

Buyology – Martin Lindstrom ****

Although there are some concerns about how this book is written – and worries too about the way the conclusions are drawn from the science – this is an engaging study of how modern imaging techniques can be used to start to answer that age-old worry about advertising and branding – we think it works, but we don’t know why, when or even if it really does.
Brand guru Martin Lindstrom sets off on a voyage of discovery using an fMRI scanner and an SST (brainwaves) monitor to see how individuals react to advertising and branding in a systematic fashion that has never before been tried. Advertising has to be one of the most unscientific ventures that billions of dollars gets spent on. Everyone thinks it influences buyers – but no one is sure how much, or exactly what a particular advert will achieve. Much of it is probably a waste of time and money. The idea of neuromarketing is to more scientifically target advertising and promotion to achieve effects.
Stated like that it sounds scary, like something out of a dystopian science fiction movie – the reality is much less intrusive. It’s really just a more scientific extension of the focus group, a way of trying to get some idea how people react to advertising to fine tune it. Along the way we can learn some interesting lessons about ourselves and the way we make decisions.
But there are problems. I’d recommend not reading the foreword, which is sycophantic to the point of sick-making. And Lindstrom himself has something of a tendency to be irritating in his writing, which is very much of the ‘aren’t I clever, doing this, and look at all the money I’m spending on it,’ school. However, my main concern is with the science, or at least what we’re not told. In almost every example there are obvious questions, doubts raised, that don’t get answered.
Early on, for instance, we hear that when people see the nasty warnings on cigarette packets this triggers feeling of craving. We’re led to believe it’s the negative message that somehow does this – yet we aren’t told why the much more obvious explanation – that these warnings simply remind people of packets of cigarettes, because that’s where they see them, and it’s the cigarettes that cause the craving – isn’t considered.
Then we hear how before seeing the product placement in the American Idol TV show, people don’t have any particular memory for the products pushed in the show. But after seeing the show they did. Wow, it works. Yet, presumably these people had seen the show before. So the effect must be very short-lived, or they would already remember the products. Is it still valuable? Don’t know. (And can you really tell me no one already remembers Coca Cola?)
Next, Lindstrom goes onto mirror neurons, and how the firing of the neurons is associated with an action when we just see something. Fair enough. And there’s certainly some pretty obvious stuff in here – but no mention of recent research casting doubt on the way mirror neurons work, which makes the presentation of the data a touch selective. (To be fair, the research may have emerged after the book was written, so the author might not have known about it.)
All in all, a fascinating subject and one that influences all our lives, but the book itself isn’t great, and there seems to be too much selectivity (getting the message the author wanted) in the way the science is interpreted.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I, Mammal - Liam Drew *****

It's rare that a straightforward biology book (with a fair amount of palaeontology thrown in) really grabs my attention, but this one did. Liam Drew really piles in the surprising facts (often surprising to him too) and draws us a wonderful picture of the various aspects of mammals that make them different from other animals. 

More on this in a moment, but I ought to mention the introduction, as you have to get past it to get to the rest, and it might put you off. I'm not sure why many books have an introduction - they often just get in the way of the writing, and this one seemed to go on for ever. So bear with it before you get to the good stuff, starting with the strange puzzle of why some mammals have external testes.

It seems bizarre to have such an important thing for passing on the genes so precariously posed - and it's not that they have to be, as it's not the case with all mammals. Drew mixes his own attempts to think through this intriguing issue with the histor…

Foolproof - Brian Hayes *****

The last time I enjoyed a popular maths book as much as this one was reading Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions as a teenager. The trouble with a lot of ‘fun’ maths books is that they cover material that mathematicians consider fascinating, such as pairs of primes that are only two apart, which fail to raise much excitement in normal human beings. 

Here, all the articles have something a little more to them. So, even though Brian Hayes may be dealing with something fairly abstruse-sounding like the ratio of the volume of an n-dimensional hypersphere to the smallest hypercube that contains it, the article always has an interesting edge - in this case that although the ‘volume’ of the hypersphere grows up to the fifth dimension it gets smaller and smaller thereafter, becoming an almost undetectable part of the hypercube.

If that doesn’t grab you, many articles in this collection aren’t as abstruse, covering everything from random walks to a strange betting game. What'…

Karl Drinkwater - Four Way Interview

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester, but has lived in Wales half his life. He is a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics and Information Science. When he isn't writing, he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake and zombies - not necessarily in that order. His latest novel is Lost Solace.

Why science fiction?

My favourite books have always been any form of speculative fiction. As a child I began with ghost stories, which were the first books to make me completely forget I was reading. By my teenage years I was obsessed with fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Although I read literary and contemporary books, non-fiction, historical works, classics and so on, it is speculative fiction that I return to when I want escape and wonder. When I read reviews of my last book, the fast-paced novella Harvest Fe…