Tricks of the trade

Advertisers seduce buyers on a daily basis - and giving into the tricks of the trade has never been more tempting. Author of ‘Buyology’, Martin Lindstrom, exposes advertisers’ tricky techniques.

‘Buyology’ looks at the ways advertising influences our buying decisions, including subconscious thoughts, feelings and desires.

According to Lindstrom, ‘neuromarketing’, the combination of marketing and science in advertising, is responsible for our spending habits. He explains the psychology behind our decisions to buy certain goods is influenced by mirror neurons; when we see a product presented in a way that appears as cool, sexy or successful, we buy the product in the hopes of mimicking the specific image. Additionally, childhood memories, religious beliefs and our sense of smell also shape our tastes and influence the buying decisions we make.

Somatic markers are a main factor behind spending and brand loyalty – where advertisers use subconscious memory to sell products. Somatic Markers are created in our minds during our lifetime using images and fragrance in conjunction with good and bad events. If advertising incorporates an image that evokes a memory, consumers will be more compelled to buy a certain product.

Fast facts about advertising:

  • In 2005 corporations spent $7.3 billion on market research in the U.S.
  • In 2007 corporations spent $12 billion on market research in the U.S.
  • Marketing costs, including packaging and displays, TV commercials, online banner ad, celebrity endorsements and billboards totalled $117 billion in the U.S.
  • 80 PERCENT of products launched in the U.S. Fail in the first three months of their release.
  • 21, 000 new brands are launched on the world market every year.
  • By the age of 66, most of us have seen two million TV commercials.
  • In 2006, companies paid a record $2.4 million for a 30 second commercial.

Lindstrom has invested much of his time to research consumer responses to advertising. His study of 2081 volunteers from America, Germany, England, Japan and China involved brain-scanning technology to monitor reactions to advertisement visuals, hearing slogans, tasting rival food brands and watching programs sponsored by major companies.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Anti-smoking campaigns unwittingly encourage smoking - quite simply, when smokers see a cigarette or a person smoking they want to smoke because the part of the brain that responds to craving is triggered.
  • Negative messages from politicians win votes.
  • Product placement in films rarely works - there is approximately $150 million worth of product placement in the latest Bond film, but unless the products are incorporated into the storyline of a show or movie, viewers won’t remember them.
  • Many multi-million dollar advertising campaigns are a complete waste of time - two out of three corporate sponsors of American Idol wasted million of dollars on their campaigns.
  • Scent and sound are important influencing positive or negative sales - The scent of melons help to sell electronic products.
  • Ritual associated with a product can increase sales - putting lime in your Corona was invented by a Californian bartender.
  • Brands with a history are often favoured.

Another significant finding is that the ‘sex sells’ theory isn’t always correct. Lindstrom insists that sexual content used in advertising generally only sells sex itself – that sexually suggestive content or "sexy" people in fact distract viewers from the product itself.

The only instance that sex will sell is if it’s associated with controversy or if the consumer is made to feel as though they need to mimic a certain behaviour or look a particular way.

So, how can you best avoid the common traps that companies use?

  • Make sure you're not hungry when shopping - you will buy 35 percent more.
  • Don't grab the trolley or basket - you buy 30 percent more.
  • Don't take your credit card with you – for that brief shopping spree, you're under the illusion that you have free money.
  • Don't fall for special offers.
  • Don't take the kids shopping! They will increase your purchase rate by a staggering 40 percent.
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