Martin Lindstrom begins “Buy*ology” with the idea that something is inherently not right — or rotten — in the field of advertising.

Traditional research methods of marketing aren’t working.


Because they’re outdated and based on facts that are not actual facts.

In fact, Buy*ology is centered on the fact that neuromarketing is the marriage of marketing and science.

Lindstrom’s ideas cover how your brain subconsciously reacts to product placement, advertising, and the marketing of products became a threshold for how consumers see and intake the message and information of advertising in society.

So, What Is Buyology?

Buyology is the subconscious processing of thoughts, feelings, and desires that ultimately drives purchasing decisions. Put more simply, it’s the science of relating emotions to buying.

As expressed in the quasi-forward, Lindstrom firmly believes in the power of neuromarketing. The more we know about why we fall prey to the tricks and tickets of advertising, the better we can prepare and defend ourselves against those tactics.

The Science Behind Buyology

Over the course of about three years, Lindstrom studied the power of unconscious advertising. Looking not at what we report that we like, but what our brains respond most favorable to, instead.

Using SST, which tracks brain waves, and fMRI, which tracks the activation of the brain (by seeing what’s working the most, which requires the most “fuel”), Lindstrom was able to study what our brains were most excited about, what they craved, what they wanted more than what we said we wanted.

Take, for example, cigarettes

Despite national and international bans on overt advertising, cigarettes have not died out. In fact, 10 million cigarettes are sold a minute around the globe.

Even though there are warnings depicting the gruesome side effects of smoking printed right on the packaging, the habit has prevailed — and even grown considerably.

In fact, advertising bans have forced cigarette companies to come up with new and interesting ways in which to market to consumers, developing a system in which subliminal messaging creates connotations that smoking is still an okay thing to do.

In fact, fMRI imaging showed that the cigarette warning labels didn’t deter smoking – they lit up sections of the brain that encouraged lighting up.

The smoking study shows “how branding and marketing messages work on the human brain – how our truest selves react to stimuli at a level far deeper than conscious thought.”

Our Unconscious Minds

Unknown to many, our unconscious minds are a lot better at interpreting our behavior (and consequently, what we decide to buy). Much more than our conscious minds. So why are 8 in every 10 U.S. products launched locally destined to fail?

Key Point from Page 35: Neuromarketing isn’t about implanting ideas into people’s brains – it’s about discovering what’s already inside our brains. From there, consumers can be more aware of what’s being marketed to them, and make more informed decisions.

Currently, in advertising, there’s no originality — it’s too risky.

Think of car commercials – the same shiny car zips around the same tight turn, then spins up dust in the desert. You’re familiar with the commercial – you just don’t remember which automaker it comes from.

That, Lindstrom says, is the point — rather than creating something new, companies copy each other, creating visual branding of the overall product (a car) than the specific brand they’re trying to sell (like an Audi).

Product Placement

Were you aware that 75% of all scripted primetime shows feature product placement — subliminal placements advertisers have paid the big bucks for?

The issue, then, is the level of effectiveness of the product placement. Unless the item in question is integral to the plot of the show, we easily forget that it even existed.

An example of product placement done right is the Friends episode that centers around a Pottery Barn coffee table – the table was integral to the plot of the episode, and so we were all able to pick it out.

Did you know it cost the company millions to have that product placement – but even reruns of the episode makes them millions more?

Unconscious Minds and Why We Buy

We want to be like the others — be popular, be perceived as attractive or funny — to be accepted. The concept of imitation is a huge deciding factor in why we buy the things we do.

As such, the future of advertising lives is mirror neurons. We want to simulate what we see – we want to be like the person in the ad who is popular and well liked.

Subliminal Advertising

Subliminal advertising works chillingly well, Lindstrom relates.

Additionally, logos are next to worthless – we forget millions of logos, but we will remember ads that don’t predominately display the logo and instead create a scene and a feeling that evokes wanting.

The most successful ads create a situation in which we aren’t even conscious of the fact it was an advertisement in the first place.

Images associated with the act of “fitting in” or “being cool” are more powerful than the logos. They invoke colors, sounds, and other physical actions. Also, they trigger our mirror neurons, which want to imitate and mirror what we see and perceive.

So, we understand that we’re playing a giant game of monkey see monkey do. But why do we purchase the same thing over and over again?

What’s happening in our subconscious that makes us turn the air down before we go to sleep, or put our shoes on in the morning the same way every time (left, right, tie the laces, or whichever pattern you do)?

Creatures of Habit

Rituals, which are not entirely rational actions, and superstitions help us form emotional connections with brands and products.

Lindstrom details in chapter 5 how we wear the same jersey every time our favorite sports team is playin, or use the same face cream as our mothers did before us, and theirs before them. The superstition was formed in which an emotional connection was made in order to mirror the people we love, or the thing we love, or action that released happy chemicals into our brains.

And so over and over again, we do the ritual to release that chemical into our brains – which creates a loyalty to a brand.

Like religions, successful companies and successful brands have created a clear and very power sense of mission. They have tied longstanding rituals and superstitions to their products, in order to create a sense of wanting, needing, or chemical-releasing pleasure.

So Why Did I Buy the More Expensive Water?

As we grow, we develop bookmarks in our brain, which later affect how we pick one product over another. The release of the chemicals in our brains establishes connections, or sonic markets, that act as instant shortcuts, built from a lifetime of associations.

Advertising sells to our senses, creating a link between the association from our brains to the product itself.

Lindstrom notes a fine line, however – too much stimulation creates oversaturation, which will lead to no memory retention of the product.

He notes that sounds and smells are more potent when it comes to recalling brands – and the evocation of the theme, that triggers those bookmarks, leads to more sales.

Sensory branding, then, creates a correlation between being happy, and purchasing – which will lead us to purchase the more “eco friendly” option, even if it’s the exact same product, just in different packaging.

What We Like vs. What We Say We Like

Lindstrom takes chapter 9 to detail how what people claim to like and how they really feel are often polar opposites.

We may say we don’t like the advertising on cigarette packages, but in all actuality, our brains release chemicals that make us crave them more. It seems exclusivity has become more engaging and brain-triggering than warnings against harm.

Think about Gmail

You could have said you loved outlook (or, at the time, hotmail) and that you were never going to leave. But when Gmail first launched, it launched as an invite-only platform.

That sense of exclusivity, of belonging to something that other people couldn’t have, overloaded the place in our brain that wanted it so bad. So while you might have said you liked Hotmail better, your subconscious brain wanted that piece of exclusivity that Gmail offered.

Sex in Advertising Doesn’t Sell (as well as we’ve been led to believe)

An interesting correlation that Lindstrom presents in chapter 10 is sex in advertising. The suggestion of sex is prevalent. However, data has shown that sex doesn’t sell anything. By all accounts, sexually suggestive marketing material actually blinds people to the product they’re trying to sell.

The converse of that is the implication of sexiness. Think of Brooke Shields in her Calvins – “nothing gets between me and my Calvins”  and you see the picture of how the implication of sexiness triggered our mirror neurons to want to be just like her.

The Truth About Why We Buy

Throughout the book, Martin Lindstrom proves time and time again that humans are, by nature, poor reporters of their own actions. Visceral, visual pleasure ranks higher in terms of advertising tactics than anything else.

Marketers and advertisers have become better at targeting subconscious wishes and desires – and the truth about why we buy is due to the fact that they’re getting better and better about triggering the subconscious bookmarks in our minds that relate pleasurable experiences with their products.

Overall, Lindstrom paints a picture of advertising in a unique way in Buy*ology. The truth behind what motivates our purchasing decisions lies purely in the advertising company’s ability to relate their product to a need, a want, a desire.

Lindstrom’s data and use of neuromarketing show that by creating those connotations, why we buy what we buy really isn’t up to us – it’s up to advertisers.