The endless lengths marketers go to get us to buy

Recession be damned. If there’s a way to get people to part with their money, by God, marketers are going to discover and use it. Today’s example? Neuromarketing.

Apparently there’s no recession in Martin Lindstrom’s business, Buyology, Inc. His firm takes its name from his book “Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy.” Consumer products companies are flying him around the world to learn what he knows about what Marketing News calls “the last frontier of marketing research: the consumer’s subconscious mind.”

Lindstrom’s book, published in 2008, sets him up nicely as an expert on neuromarketing, which he says “is to use the latest brain science to understand the consumer’s behavior.” Or as his book title says, “Why We Buy.” (I confess I haven’t read it.)

Nobel Peace Prize winner and neuroscientist Eric Kandel has said the ultimate remaining challenge of the biological sciences is to “understand the biological basis of consciousness and the mental processes by which we perceive, act, learn, and remember.” In the last five years or so, this pursuit has spawned neuromarketing.

Just as marketers teamed with psychologists after World War II to create the field of consumer psychology, the largest brands are now looking to harness the methods and technology of neuroscience to study our brain responses to marketing stimuli. Neuromarketing is just the latest chapter in a long history of marketers learning to produce better and better-targeted marketing messages that will lead us to buy.

What struck me most about Lindstrom’s interview in the latest issue of Marketing News (no article link available yet) is this comment:

“My intention was to write a book so, hopefully, the whole world could engage in a debate and say: ‘Are we going too far? And if we’re going too far, should we have regulations around this?’ Now, here’s the bad news on this one. The ethical debate has not appeared so far.”

Lindstrom is right. There’s been no debate. But he’s not going to be the one to spark it, given he claims to work with 17 of the world’s largest brands, 12 of which are using neuromarketing. His vested interest is in seeing this new field flourish, not in drawing attention to its questionable reason for existence.

I would love to see a thorough debate of neuromarketing. Just as I’d welcome a public debate on the ethics of word of mouth marketing. But my concern is less with neuromarketing itself than with what it says about the marketing industry: Will there ever be an end to the lengths marketers will go to get us to buy? After neuromarketing, what’s next? Cloning loyal consumers of our brand? If you want some answers read journalist Lucas Conley’s superb book, “Obsessive Branding Disorder.” Or if you’re intrigued by neuromarketing, read the blog.

If humans hope to have a sustainable future, they must consume less. A lot less. A recession is one way to put a stop to buying. A better way is for the choice to be voluntary. What the world really needs is to understand how to trigger or train the subconscious mind to reject the marketing stimuli that entice us to buy more crap we don’t need and can’t afford.

Here’s a book waiting to be written: “DoNotBuyology: Truth and Lies about Why We Shouldn’t Buy.” If you write it, I’ll buy it. No MRI required.

March 6th, 2009

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.