Reading a book is an essentially healthful chore for the mindful and the critical. When a reader flips on a book with the consciousness of being informed by it, the result is extension of knowledge. Off guard, reading a book without gate-keeping consciousness, the reader becomes a prey to the explicit and implicit consciousness that the book imparts on its readers. Without an analytical perspective towards reading, the unmindful and non-critical reader is no way different from the unconscious compulsive consumer lured by the sublime messages in the images and texts of advertising materials.
A criticism is a “disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought of in the world” (Arnold, 1980, p.265; cited in Milner & Browitt, 2002). In this critique, I review the salient points of Martin Lindstrom’s Buy.ology (2010) in several frames to present my opinion on his thoughts about why people buy, and how the book as a source of information have implications to interest readers. I share in this discourse, my reflections on the value of the material in representing contemporary buying culture, against its effort of misrepresentation to promote the same buying culture. Thus, I find, that in truth Lindstrom is able to succeed in being informed about consumer behavior as to the objective results of the science of neuromarketing, but the very truth he presented is a lie in itself to keep the same buying culture by snaring the readers in the sublime representation of such informed consciousness.
Lindstrom begins with the premise that our brain are constantly collecting and filtering information in unconscious and instantaneous fashion, and these information are stored in the clutter of our memories, some are kept in the long-term, others are obliviously dispensed. Buy.ology is “the multitude of subconscious forces that motivate us to buy” (p.6.) which came about as result of the advances of neuromarketing science. This takes advantages of neuroimaging technologies and knowledge to push the art and economy of advertising. Through neuroimaging the industry can zero in to the highest chance of success as it pinpoints the consumers reward centers to reveal which marketing or advertising effort will utmost stimulate, appeal or become memorable as opposed to those which are dull, off-putting, anxiety-provoking or forgettable. From the arts and social philosophy of advertising and marketing, neuromarketing is presented as an alternative with precision and expertise to the industry of advertising and marketing.
Buy.ology represents a scientific advancement that pushes current social communication perspectives of advertising and marketing. There is some solace in Lindstrom writing purpose to present the truth and lies about why we buy. He develops the book in a series of seemingly connected descriptions, narratives and expositions of the findings in his multimillion-dollar commissioned experiments, in a conversational non-arguing language. Hence, it has an appeal to readers who are interested about popular culture, intended for the masses to read that they may be virtually enlightened of the truth that explains their unnoticed and un-reflected buying behavior. But, both the virtual enlightenment and disconnections of informative representations do not in finality make a simple reader of popular culture conscious.
As a medium with a message, the book underscores some evidences obtained from scientific studies that scanned the brains of volunteer consumers. These experiments allowed for the collection of data on how the brain or which parts thereof are stimulated when buyers sense specific elements in an advertisements. Logos, colors, images, texts, backgrounds, actions, models that consist the content of advertisements; contexts and placements and the wider socio-cultural milieus where several variables examined in those neuromarketing experiments. Those experiments boil down to rationalize on brain functions and consumer behavior. Such results when read in scholarly journals are indeed informative for the experts of communication, social sciences, marketing and management. At some point, because of the languaging style of the book, it informs an able reader, but on the other disenable the same reader who took it for reading without a critical perspective.
Buy.ology is a vital resource for marketing, public-relation, advertising, organization and business communication. Capitalizing on the “We” that is an inclusive pronoun to refer to everyone in this world, the book is pulled out of the shelf like a must-read for anyone. However, I find the book in that case, lying to be a book for everyone and anyone. Those whose interest is to make business will likely benefit from this book, which I describe a walk-away advertisement that you can add to your cart. It is repository of brand names. As a reader with a critical frame of mind and a teacher of reading, I found myself being overwhelmed by the facts, opinions, personal insights and experiences convoluted to complete the text. Reading the book to me was like passing through a highway filled with skyscraping advertisement billboards.
Without looking at the book again, if I were to recall the brands which Lindstrom had mentioned in the book, I can probably name accurately: Marlboro, Camel, Ferrari, Coca-Cola, Toblerone, Reise, Ford, American Idol, Kit-Kat, Oreo, Chanel, Abercrombie and Fitch, Gap, Apple, Virgin Atlantic, Dunhill, Lego, Ralph Lauren; and by guessing: Coney Island, Cheers, Hardrock, Disneyland, Casio, McDonalds, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Nike, Reebok and Pepsi Cola. At this interest, I went over the text again to find which of those that I guessed are there in the book, in its index I missed only three. A critical reader of Buy.ology would surely know what those three are. My point here is that the book in its attempt was not able to sincerely promote a critical consciousness for the consumer – as it bias is towards the other.
If I were to read it as I was just interested to find out how science can help the advertising and marketing industry, I would know it could through neuroimaging. My knowledge ends in realizing that science has a way to determine the consumer behavior by examining the areas in our brain that are stimulated as we buy. On a critical level, this piece of factual information should be able to guide me in buying attitude and action. However, as what Lindstrom presented, the advertisers and marketers have their ways of getting through the barriers in the system and getting through the minds of the consumers. I believe the book is not genuinely intended for mass readers, as it works more helpfully to satisfy the knowledge-requirement of the business industry.
The book is helpful for advertisers and marketers in many more ways than to the consumers that it answers the trivial questions to common people but puzzles marketing decision-makers. Applying systems thinking perspectives, I see that the book is successful to make the connection between consumer behavior, advertising and the human brains’ neural functions. Evidently surprising, but not totally new, except that it provides empirically substantial proofs on how our mind affects our buying behavior – Buy.ology that is offer vital answers to significant questions that challenge advertisers and marketers: How product placement work? How sex sells? How emotions trigger consumer behavior? How subliminal messages affect product consumption? How rituals and religion can be advantageous to get consumers buying? How consumer control works to the advantage of controlling buying behavior? How consumers make sense and meaning that makes them buy things they don’t actually have need of? All of these questions draw upon the question of human operate in their perception, thinking and behavior to buy a product as it is promoted in advertisements?
The book is indeed informative. Reflecting on its content, made me actually think of how I could repackage myself, my image and identity, and the service that I offer to my students. Would the tricks and magic of advertising get my message through their minds? That at the end of the lesson whatever knowledge and skills that should be processed will retain in the thinking heads of those students. At some point, I believe so, but projections of image that do not equal with the real identity are forms of misrepresentation and deception. I will be resolved to being honestly sincere and caring to train the minds of these learners that they will be able to find value to what is shared them and turn them into meaningful outputs. That I believe is better, than what Buy.ology projects to every reader while it is not really written out to help them.
Subliminal messages are the most potent influence of advertisement to a consumer. Lindstrom believes so, and he stressed that they are out there. He advices, “Don’t let yourself—and your wallet—fall prey to them” (p.87). After discussing how various brands and products, naming them one by one and repeatedly, and how their advertisement schemes lure the people to buy them, Lindstrom leaves this suggestion. He knew that negative advertisements don’t work, just as in the case of cigarette ads which are supposed to push away consumers from smoking. Yet, this suggestion, in its structure is reinforcing to the reader that subliminal messages in advertisements are powerful. The advice is also telling them otherwise, by how it is structured. In Psychology, the science of neurolinguistic programming suggests that negative constructions of imperatives reinforce the same negative response. In other words, the advice is like saying, go sell yourself and drain your wallet. This to an ordinary reader operating in the unconscious would mean looking for those brands mentioned in the book, and perhaps buying them sooner or later.
Buy.ology has presented a metanarrative of a postmodern consumer culture, insincere of the aim to help raise the consciousness of consumers, but successful in reinforcing the strategies of advertisers and marketers. Postmodernism presents a global impetus while emphasizing on individual empowerment against a hegemonic popular norm or culture. I find the book to be well-crafted to cause disorientation to a simple reader that lures them to participate in the continuing hegemony of global brands. It stirs more curiosity rather than consciousness about consumer behavior. I myself, would like to take the risk of paying attention to the presentations of these products in their advertisements, and that would put me to become a prey to the existing sublime messages that they carry. The book is but all a metanarrative of brand names and the way their advertisement influence people’s behavior. It preaches what it teaches that readers will walk-away with them, instead of walking-away from them.
What we read is what we know, and what we know is what we become. What we experience with the advertisement is the same experience in reading. We have to make rational choices, but more often we operate based on what our perceptions, our senses and feelings. We act before we think and it is very seldom that we think before we act. Buying behavior is an act that we often do without thinking – that is we are not often conscious about. We just think about it afterwards the action has been done. Buy.ology is slightly helpful to inform us of how our unconscious behavior is a result of the functions of our brain, but it doesn’t provide the frames in which ordinary consumers can operate to guard their selves from the entrapment of subliminal advertisement messages. To me it opened the Pandora’s Box for advertisers to lord over human mind through deception and inception. It unleashed the oracle from Delphi of the future of advertisement – seemingly perceived to be subtle and gentle but hostile in its attempt to impute the human minds captive.
Lindstrom, M. (2010). Buy.ology, Truth and lies about what we buy. New York: Broadway House.
Milner, A. & Browitt, J. (2002). Contemporary cultural theory. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.