Review of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We BuyIn addition to my addiction to business books, I have this obsession with “Why people buy” and “How we come to choose one purchase over another.” It seems that Martin Lindstrom and I have something in common. The difference (and it’s a big one) is that Martin decided to take on the biggest scientific and most expensive study of buyer behavior worldwide to answer these questions.

He has put his study into a book called Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy.

If you’ve ever been fascinated by subliminal advertising, if sex really sells or how rituals influence buyer behavior, this book will answer your questions on all those things and more.

What I learned in Buyology:

  • Warning labels on cigarettes just make people want to smoke more. (page 15)
  • Sex doesn’t sell, controversy does. (Page 183)
  • We instinctively copy other people. (Page 53)
  • Sexy models in ads appeal more to same-sex readers and watchers. (page 191)
  • People love products that look like babies. (page 31)
  • Senses influence us more than features. (143)
  • Rituals and superstitions influence buying decisions. (page 99)
  • Product placement works only when it’s related to the story. (Page 44)

Martin weaves all these lessons (and more) into stories that are introduced, developed, and referenced throughout the book. This is a book that you’ll want to read from start to finish. Jumping around doesn’t work as well. The book is not epic sized; just shy of 200 pages and the references and bibliography pages are loaded. So if you want to learn more, you’ll have all the resources at your fingertips.

The lessons are culled from the research project which Lindstrom started in 2004 — and massive it was. The study took nearly three years and cost about $7 million (sponsored by eight multi-nationals). There were multiple experiments with thousands of subjects from all over the world, 200 hundred researchers, ten professors and doctors and an ethics committee.

The stars of the show were the two sophisticated brain scanning instruments: the fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and the SST (Steady State Topography). These are basically brain scanners that highlight areas of the brain that are stimulated when they see and react to advertising. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, just search on the term “Neuromarketing” and knock yourself out. There are over 370,000 references on the web alone.

But why do that, when you can just read Buyology.

What I liked about Buyology:

I have always, always, always been interested in the psychology of choice and buyer behavior and this book explains the science and surprise behind how we react to familiar ads.

The other thing I liked about the book is that it gives you a glimpse about what makes Martin Lindstrom one of the premier branding experts in the world today; his curiosity and passion. This book is a documentation of his journey from curiosity about what works and why. In as much as this book pulls global resources to answer these questions, it’s an engaging report on what happened in the process and what Lindstrom learned.

What I missed in Buyology:

My personal preference is for how-to’s and specifics on how I can put what I’ve learned to use. This is not that kind of book. You will have to read and apply the information for yourself.  So, my recommendation for Martin Lindstrom’s next book — is tell us how you’ve put this information to use and explain what you’ve done differently as a result.

Can’t wait for that one.

* * * * *

Ivana Taylor About the Author: Ivana Taylor has spent over 20 years helping industrial organizations and small business owners get and keep their ideal customers. Her company is Third Force and she writes a blog called Strategy Stew. She is co-author of the book “Excel for Marketing Managers.”


Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."

14 Reactions
  1. Thanks for this review, Ivana — you and I share the same “always always always” interest. I bought an copy of this book before it came out, and when I received it, it went in my car, with the hopes that I’d have time to take peeks when stuck in traffic or stopped by a train, but that hasn’t happened yet. Your review has made me want to grab it and curl up on the couch.

    I’ve been following Lindstrom for awhile. His videos on branding are also very illuminating.

  2. Now, big question for you, Ivana: what does it mean “People love products that look like babies”? Give us an idea of how to make our products look like babies, please.

  3. You have caught my attention with this one Ivana. Sounds like it would make for interesting reading. I’m fascinated by some of the extremely weird commercials that play on tv and have often wondered if it makes other people scratch their heads. Reading this book may give me some insight into what motivates marketing.

  4. I also found a very interesting in-depth interview that Lindstrom did on this book at:

  5. This is interesting…. something not taught in marketing class.

  6. Ivana: Thanks for the review. I wonder what branding has to do with religion? From the book site at Amazon: “Companies routinetly [sic] copy from the world of religion and create rituals.” If I put a lime wedge in a bottle of Corona, I do it for the taste combination, not for a Mexican religious ritual! 😉

  7. @Walt – I love your question “What does it mean people want products that look like babies” Because that’s what I aid too – “How am I supposed to make MY product look like a baby?!” – especially if my product is a service or something like a bolt or piece of rubber. Well, Walt – I say – you can’ follow every piece of advice in a book. I read that to mean that if you HAVE the ability to design a product with rounded features and you think it might help – then do it.

  8. Yeah, I’m getting sick of books that only have theory and no praxis (or brass tacks). Its like “thanks author so and so people are irrational. Sweet!”

    Great review, should be one of the next new memes for the next 6-12 months. Although with Gladwells book on its heels, Gladwell may just swamp it.

  9. This does sound like an interesting read. I like learning anything that regards human behavior as its so fascinating to me.

    “Sexy models in ads appeal more to same-sex readers and watchers.” “Senses influence us more than features.” So true!

    I’m going to have to check this one out for sure . . . the insights sound intriquing.

  10. Ivana, I loved Buyology and I think your review did it some justice. However, I am going to have to disagree with “How Tos.” Books that place action plans and how tos in them end up sounding cheap whereas Martin instead uses real world examples where the action plan was obvious.

    The best example of this would be in his religion chapter where he talks about the pillars of all religion. Just looking at those pillars should spark thousands of ideas for marketers and business owners.

    Anyway, great review and Buyology was a great book.

  11. Hi Derek! Thanks for that comment. You know – I wondered if anyone would take my comment on How-tos as a negative. It honestly wasn’t. I loved the book and tore through it voraciously. But if any reader was looking for specific how-tos, I didn’t think the book was “that kind of book”. But it DID leave me wanting more on How to’s – but not necessarily from that book.

  12. Psychology is always an important and interesting field to study. With the points you listed above Ivana is making me more eager to grab a copy of this book. 🙂

  13. Books that place action plans and how tos in them end up sounding cheap whereas Martin instead uses real world examples where the action plan was obvious.

    Why do you think they are cheap, Derek?

  14. a good read, got hooked after i visited the authors website.

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