Mr. Linstrom, the genius behind understanding the psychology of branding and according to himself the guy who knows how to manipulate us into buying practically anything is he the guy who is getting us to buy his book? Doesn’t he want everyone to buy his book? Maybe not for money, but to educate those who have been duped for their lifetime into buying things they really don’t want. It would seem that one of the guru’s of using cognitive imaging technology, fMRI brain scans, and the guy with insider knowledge of how to get us to buy stuff, it looks like he could get us to buy his book, earn money and help the population become smarter about how they are being manipulated. He didn’t convince me to buy the book, because I was already studying the effects of influences in our lives and was specifically looking for this type of work. However, he may have since my wife heard about him on NPR and mentioned his interview to me, but I think, and I can’t be sure, but I think I had found it previously. Hmm. Anyway, why isn’t everyone buying his book? Why aren’t we all learning what he has to say about this subject? Shouldn’t we be able to fight back? His conclusions at the end of the book may give us an answer about why he may not be able to sell his own book.
In his book Brandwashed Mr. Linstrom says, “Once we have activated addiction in our brains, it stays with us forever.” He says that it is because of dopamine. When we gain pleasure from an activity or an association we get a shot of dopamine from our brain. This also creates a pleasurable feeling and we end up craving that feeling and wanting more. Therefore we do again what gave us that pleasure. The more it is done the more it is needed and the bar is reset higher and higher leading to addiction. Mr. Linstrom uses an fMRI to study patterns in the brain to check his findings and concluded that this is in actuality the case. “Brand and shopping addictions may not be as life-threatening as addictions like alcoholism or drug dependency, but they are very real, and when taken to the extreme, can be very debilitating.”, says Linstrom. With this in mind, it would seem that companies would want to connect a person with that type of addiction to their product as soon as possible and before their competitors can get to them. Otherwise, they would have no reason to continue to go after that person as a customer again, because they have be already been compromised. It would seem to follow that the next step for those companies would be to go after younger and younger persons and/or go after them with new products and new brands. To me this seems to be a very tiresome and unethical practice, but as long as it continues to succeed and people are willing to part with their money in this way and not become educated and find solutions around this type of addiction, then this practice will continue. Mr. Linstrom reveals that they are indeed going after younger and younger customers. He even shares examples with scientific evidence that even children still in the womb are susceptible to life long habits due to what the mother does. With that in mind then the companies have cover the spectrum of our live span to addict us to products and create buying habits.
Linstrom outlines a series of other things that companies use to work their psychological voodoo on us. Panic, paranoia, fear, sex, peers, nostalgia, celebrity, fame, hope, dreams, health, happiness, spirituality and more are forces that affect us daily even without the companies pushing them upon us and manipulating them to channel our behavior. It would seem that when they use tactics that press these normal life-issue buttons in our brains, they take what is normality and stretch it out of proportion and try to make that new proportion seem normal. They do this slowly and most of us never notice the changes. When they slip up and push too hard or too fast they meet resistance. They have become very good at learning how far they can go. They rarely slip up and we rarely notice the changes they are pushing us into until it is nearly too late to stop it or return to what used to be normal. They are not infallible however and Linstrom also mentions several cases where these types of campaigns have backfired. You can bet that they will learn from those mistakes and tighten those chains in future campaigns.
One of the ways they know how to stay within our tolerance boundaries is through tracking our behavior patterns. Loyalty cards are a good example. When you use it you get better deals than if you don’t, but you know they are going to track every purchase and watch for your habits. If you don’t use them then you will be paying higher prices in the same store or in another store where you won’t get the benefits of the card. Data mining is what the industry calls this type of tracking. They capture your address, gender, phone number, race, education level, family size, income, favorite movie, etc. etc. They are looking for the motivations and behaviors, according to the head of a company that Linstrom mentions.
It doesn’t get any better from there. Data mining tells these companies, according to Linstrom, that what you purchase indicates your ability to pay or default. This in turn affects your ability to get credit. Even to the point that if you check your bank accounts late at night that is seen to be an indicator that you are having financial troubles. Or if you buy chome skulls from the auto section that you are more likely to miss payments on your credit card. They are tying the type of purchases and personalities together to get a clearer picture of individual behavior. This type of research has been know about and utilized for quite some time and is only becoming more and more detailed. Linstrom also notes that the credit reporting agencies, Experion, Equifax and TransUnion, the ones you rely on for credit building, a place you think your information should be safe, they sell your detailed data including, court records, and bank records, social security numbers, births and more to credit card lenders and mortage companies. These are just a few of the things that are being tracked. Linstrom mentions “Big Brother”, the term for the ruling class in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-four, as a name that he uses for these data miners, suggesting just how controlling they have become in our society.
The idea of this type of control is not new. In fact a book written in 1957 by Vance Packard entitled, The Hidden Persuaders, discussed how corporations used tactics and methods of this nature even then and prior for pretty much the same reason, profit and control of markets. Even in the 1920’s Edward Bernays wrote about keeping track of this information in his book, Propaganda.
With these sobering facts about our not so private, private lives, is there anything we can do to help ourselves get out of the mire and muck of profit and greed. Linstrom suggests near the end of his book that peer pressure or word of mouth is the strongest influence in our brand shopping and purchasing decisions. He also hopes that his book has helped you become empowered and educated to identify when you are being manipulated or not. With that in mind, should his conclusion be true, then our best hope to avoid many of these pitfalls or marketing is to talk with others, which again is also the best way of someone influencing you not too. Knowing what is going on and being vigilant about your behaviors and being aware is one thing, but even that is not going to completely remove us from the wash of branding and marketing that is flooding around us.
It seems that Linstrom is sincere in his efforts to educate the public about behind the scenes behaviors of this type. He has written other books that deal with the same message. With his ability to market and move products it would seem that his book would be a best seller and everyone would become aware and follow suit to end corporate behavior such as this. The conclusion of his book may give some answer to that question of why he may not be able to make that work. Linstrom conducted an experiment that was unknowingly applied to an entire neighborhood. A hired family influenced the neighborhood into buying products through their suggestions and use of those products. What is surprising is that the neighborhood didn’t mind being manipulated. They weren’t upset. In fact, some were happy with it. Linstrom says he can even see companies starting to pay families to do the same type of thing in neighborhoods around the country for real. Because the population doesn’t mind this type of observation and manipulation, Linstrom may not be able to sell his book at record levels. Could it be that we are happy with things the way they are? Could it be that as long as we are happy we don’t mind being manipulated and controlled? Could it be that we feel we have no recourse and are powerless to change the juggernaut? Are you happy with this?