Thursday, September 17

Unselling Sex And Other Stuff: Buyology

With 25 percent of all search results for the world's top brands linked to blogs, forums, and tweets, is it any wonder communication is being challenged? But just as fast as social media professionals are chatting about the tools they use on a daily basis, neuroscience is also opening up doors and changing convictions that were long thought to be held true.

Sex Doesn't Sell

Sex doesn't sell, at least not according to research conducted by Martin Lindstrom, whose book, Buyology: Truth and Lies about Why We Buy. Lindstrom's case is simple enough: it detracts from the intended message and seems to hold true based on brainwaves.

It's also one of the many sound bites that most reviewers picked up on because, unlike sex, controversy sells (or so says the author). It helped sell the reviews; and it helped sell the book. (The down side is controversy is not sustainable.)

So how can that be about sex? Because what the author doesn't reveal is that most communicators knew sex never sold. It simply captured people's attention. After that, the ability to sell the product relies on the ability to move the reader into something else. Unless, of course, you are selling sex. And that is a different subject all together.

But It Tried To Sell Buyology

Buyology certainly has some high points, given I had recently read What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis (which I have no desire to review) and was reminded by Lindstrom that Ford Motor Company had asked consumers to build their own car well before Jarvis was shouting that companies ought to do the same. The model flopped.

Sometimes people don't really want what they say they want. And sometimes, they certainly don't always want what they want for the price it takes to deliver.

Lindstrom does a great job demonstrating exactly that, using brain scans to confirm what people say and how they really feel (whether they know it or not) are not often the same. In the book, study participants said they liked one television show better than two others, but their brain scans revealed a different outcome. And these actual outcomes, when the shows aired, mirror their success.

Unfortunately, the few high points in the book are too few and far between. For anyone studying or working in the field of studying neuroscience and advertising, the book mostly presents a recap of studies and experiences that are all too familiar, including my personal favorite, Coca-Cola.

For example, dedicating an entire chapter to fragrance and sound experiments conducted by large companies might be new to some. But for anyone who has ever worked with a home builder, adding some ambient music and the scent of freshly baked cookies has been proven effective for as long as I can remember (and for much less than grander experiments).

Another example is Lindstrom's assessment that says infusing fear into a message can work for the short term, but sometimes scares people away from a product. The better communicators already know that. In much the same manner, fear can immobilize people from giving to nonprofit organizations if the organization makes the challenge seem insurmountable.

And finally, the section on subliminal advertising didn't really belong. It's a subject frequently covered, generally conclusive, and relatively understood. I saw it work first hand in 2008 when it was used against a political candidate we were working with. The opposition ran television ads that included a fractional clip of a gun pointing at his head.

However, I won't go as far as some detractors and say the book is worthless. There are certain people who would benefit from the book — especially novice communicators who do not have the benefit of experience or familiarity with some classic studies that Lindstrom cites and social media professionals who want to take some edge off the ask-the-consumer-everything "Kool Aid" or appreciate that social media by-in had initially hindered its own adoption rate with too much fear messaging.

But even for these professionals, the book faces some hurdles with too much memoir writing, the promise of neuromarketing science (which is basically applying neuroscience to marketing) with too little science, and not enough focus on the studies Lindstrom conducted. There is also an overemphasis on the idea that people never make rational purchases, which is only partly true.

If you can get past these problems, it's a quick read that might may you rethink a few popular ideas out there right now, assuming you can draw up your own solutions. If you cannot get past those problems, then you might find it to be another business card book that presents an argument and ties it together loosely with a few cherry picked examples to prove the position but no real solutions (which is why I can't even review the title by Jeff Jarvis). Or, you can always visit Lindstrom's site.

From Others Who Bought Or Didn't Buy Buyology

• Buyology by Martin Lindstrom is a compulsively readable account at FutureLab

• Book Mashup: Saving the World at Work and Buy-ology by Bobbie Carlton

Book Review: Buyology by Martin Lindstrom by Nicholas Kinports

Buyology: Sound Science or Wishful Thinking? at ResearchTalk

• "Buyology" Illuminates Unlikely Marriage of Science and Consumerism at Fast Company


Kevin Goodman on 9/21/09, 9:54 AM said...

"Because what the author doesn't reveal is that most communicators knew sex never sold. It simply captured people's attention. After that, the ability to sell the product relies on the ability to move the reader into something else. Unless, of course, you are selling sex."

Getting the publics attention is the initial challenge and nobody wants to be sold -

Rich on 9/21/09, 10:26 AM said...


True enough. Nobody wants to be "sold," but they do want enough confidence in a product to be able to feel good about making a purchase. Yes?

As for getting people's attention, there are hundreds of ways to do it. Sex isn't necessarily the best way. If it was, I might have included a different photo on this blog some time ago. Heh.


Kevin Goodman on 9/22/09, 9:18 AM said...

I think one of the problems with sex is that it just adds to the noise in today's world.

I suppose if it is going to be used it must be used with skill as with anything else.

But I might of overshot myself when I said nobody wants to be sold. I just meant that people are bombarded with hundreds of messages everyday and all of them are trying to convince them of something - there is a natural aversion, I believe, to marketing communications. How to be apart from the noise?

Rich on 9/22/09, 4:15 PM said...


Being apart from the noise, especially demand creation, is a talent in and of itself.

For example, I had several leftover handouts after speaking at the Nevada Association of Nonprofit Organizations. Rather than toss them in the trash, we're sending them to several nonprofit organizations that may benefit. There is no sell.

But let's talk about something else, like pizza. If you like pizza, you won't mind an occasional induction or update or sale from a new shop in the neighborhood, especially if it has something better to offer than the same old stuff. But otherwise, you only might want it when and where you are looking for it.

The store that balances that message might get you to try it once (demand creation). If it's good, you'll even go back (demand fulfillment). But if it's not good, then everything from them becomes noise. Or, if they keep yelling at you because your one purchase a month isn't good enough, you're likely to tune them out too.

One of the reasons I like social media is because the reader (or customer if I sold pizza) can decide how much is too much. For example, I might write a post once a day, you (or anyone) has a choice to read daily, weekly, monthly, or occasionally. It creates a different relationship than if I called you every night and yelled ... we're having a sale again tonight! Ha.



Blog Archive

by Richard R Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template