Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy

By Lindstrom, Martin | Mankind Quarterly, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy


Lindstrom, Martin, Mankind Quarterly


Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy Martin Lindstrom Crown Business, 2011

There is growing hostility towards free-market capitalism as it is currently structured in Western countries. Income inequality in many Western countries has been increasing, particularly in America. It appears that wealth is becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of the few, moving away from the idea that wealth reflects one's work ethic. While the current system, as often claimed, takes its directions from an increasingly smaller pool of political and business elites, it should be noted that the system is also entirely dependent on the behavior of consumers. (The current system could instead be called "consumerist" capitalism.) If American consumers desire inexpensive goods and services, then they will seek out business that cater to them. The continued financial success of mega-store chains and fast food restaurants reflects the true wishes of the consumer, despite caricatures of these businesses as utilizing "slave labor" and "unfair"; consumers have voted with their money in favor of the status quo. At the same time, consumer excess was in part responsible for initiating the current global recession. For example, the notion that home ownership was a cornerstone of the "American dream" set the stage for the recent US housing bubble. Financial institutions readily accommodated would-be-homeowners, including those with no assets, with an array of interest-only and no-money-down mortgages. When Americans realized that they were over-leveraged, they dramatically cut consumption and stopped payments on their mortgages, and the US economy fell into recession. Foreign financial institutions interlinked to the US financial market were taken down as well. While there are a number of thoughtful proposals that seek to reform free-market capitalism such that it is more equitable and responsive to the needs of consumers (Murphey, 2009), these proposals will fall short if consumer behavior is not dramatically reformed as well.

Consumers do wield significant economic power. The recent withdrawal by Bank of America of a proposed debit card monthly transaction fee and the scuttling of Qwikster by Netflix are responses to consumer outrage. However, in general, consumers act as if they are entirely beholden to the whims of business. How is it that consumers are lured then trapped into an endless cycle of consumption? Brand and marketing consultant Martin Lindstrom offers insight into how companies "trick, seduce, and persuade" consumers into "buying more unnecessary stuff". He offers an insider's view on how companies develop brands and target specific populations for particular ad campaigns. Companies, he reports, are using the neurosciences and psychology to not only identify how brands and ads work on the brain's decision making process but also to see if they are able to modulate that process in order to retain customers. The 21st century is an era of 24/7 interconnectedness, where our personal data is scattered across the Web, data that companies are accumulating and sifting through to learn more about their target's spending habits. One will be amazed at the network of data-mining companies that gather and sell our personal data and the measures that companies will go to personalize ads to each customer. With greater connectivity via on-line social networks and increased usage of GPS-type devices in mobile phones and automobiles, companies will have even more access to observe (or control?) consumer behavior in the near future. Lindstrom's point is not to bring consumerism to a standstill but to better "educate and empower" readers to make better judgments on purchases, free of outside influence or at least with awareness of the often subconscious forces that impel us to buy.

Lindstrom states that companies expend considerable effort in linking their brands with particular emotions. In a world of dozens of different types of breakfast cereals and dozens of makes of homogeneous looking automobiles, it is ultimately the brand rather than the product itself that consumers by. …

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