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Buyology by Martin Lindstrom

By fff | Books | June 28, 2010 |

By fff | Books | June 28, 2010 |

Buyology is a difficult book for me to review, not because I don’t have anything to say about it, but because I don’t want to write a review of a different book than the one I actually read. It’s pretty frustrating to look up reviews and find some idiot prattling on about what the author should have written about, instead of critiquing what was actually written. It’s the literary equivalent of complaining to your waitress that your pancakes don’t taste like a hamburger: What’s the point? Deal with what is actually there, and if you’re going to criticize, criticize it for not doing what it sets out to do.

But, I can’t separate how disappointing I found Buyology from my expectations going in. Buyology is based on a research project meant to analyze how advertising actually works on our brain, i.e. what parts of the brain are activated when you see different types of advertising. The information presented is fairly interesting — for example, anti-smoking ads light up the ‘craving’ center of the brain in smokers more than cigarette ads do - but presented in a way I found pretty appalling.

Lindstrom is completely enamored of advertisers, and lovingly describes their (creepy) methods. He describes the way companies pay bars to design their interiors to evoke certain products and logos — Coca Cola, a cigarette brand — without ever having the logo or brand name visible. To Lindstrom, this is clever, and he talks of it admiringly. To me, this is incredibly creepy and kind of fucked up. Finding new places to put ads, and new ways to advertise, shouldn’t be lauded as being oh-so-clever, but derided as encroaching upon our lives in an annoying and sometimes dangerous fashion.

Lindstrom is also surprisingly glib. He designed and carried out studies that he repeatedly states are the first of their kind, have never been carried out before, etc. But when it gets to describing the result, usually all the reader gets is a one sentence “anti-smoking ads lit up the craving center of smokers’ brains” or “when presented with ads with sexual content, participants could not remember the product being advertised.” I would actually be interested in reading about the research results in more detail, and it’s not like adding two or three pages to each chapter explaining the findings would make readers balk at the overall length (under 200 pages).

In the end, Buyology explores an interesting area of knowledge with New Studies! that are the First of Their Kind! and falls flat. The analysis is shallow, the groundbreaking studies are not explained in detail, and the perspective is perplexing. There, I tried to review what is actually there.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of fff’s reviews, check out this blog.

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