Villing & Company

Are Consumers Really Brandwashed?

During a recent trip to the library, I picked up a copy of Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom.  I will openly admit that my leisure reading time is typically devoted to popular fiction and I jealously guard that opportunity for a mental break. So it was a bit unusual that I was wandering down the non-fiction aisle and happened to spot this title.  Published last fall and described as an insight into "tricks companies use to manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy" from a noted marketing professional with decades of experience advising national brands, I thought it rated a read.

Lindstrom's warnings to unsuspecting consumers are many and varied. He talks about the concept of marketing in the womb. Sure, we all know that a mother's voices and other close sounds are detected in the womb, but jumping from there to the statement that an Asian mall may have influenced the shopping habits of a future generation by exposing pregnant shoppers to pleasing sounds and scents is, in my opinion, quite a stretch. In fact, at this point, I reviewed the book jacket to make sure I hadn't erroneously picked up a tongue-in-cheek satire rather than a serious publication.  Does an expectant mother really need to worry that her child will be born with pre-set shopping habits because of which mall she frequented during pregnancy?

Brandwashed questions the true consumer motivation behind many environmentally friendly purchases. Toyota has used a very intelligent combination of product placement and endorsements to make the Prius, according to the book, its third-best-selling model. Lindstrom argues that Toyota's success with Prius marketing is not due to the fact that the buyer truly cares about being environmentally responsible, but because the buyer cares about looking environmentally responsible and therefore enhancing his or her social reputation. Assuming this is true, is it inherently wrong to make it attractive to do something that is predominantly considered to be the right thing to do? Bicycle helmets are a perfect example.  Through an effective use of endorsements by figures such as Lance Armstrong and the availability of a stylish product offering, it's now considered cool for kids and adults alike to wear a helmet while cycling – a radical change from 20 years ago.

Are there questionable marketing practices out there or some topics that a cautious consumer would be smart to learn more about? Certainly. Brandwashed includes a chapter on data mining and the vast amount of personal information that marketers gather through loyalty programs, online purchases and other sources. I would think that the average consumer would be surprised by much of what Lindstrom covers on this topic. However, I also think that a good marketer should not fear an educated audience.

Throughout Brandwashed, Lindstrom contends that marketers "obscure the truth, manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy" and describes them as not just shrewd but "sinister." Structured around some basic facts and presented in an arguably dramatic manner, Lindstrom's analysis of today's advertising world seems determined to create "Adphobia" among readers. One could even assert that he is using the fear of being manipulated by advertisers to promote the sale of his book, the dangers of which are clearly outlined in the chapter titled "Peddling Panic and Paranoia."

Filed Under: branding

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