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In 2009, TIME magazine named Martin Lindstrom as one of the
world’s most influential people. He is an adviser to top
executives at Fortune 100 companies and has been featured in
The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The Economist, New York
Times, The Washington Post, and more. The Wall Street Journal
acclaimed his previous book, BRANDsense as one of the five
best marketing books ever published. Buyology, a New York
Times and The Wall Street Journal bestseller, has been
translated into more than 30 languages.
Subconscious, emotional, irrational associations drive
people’s choices – including purchase decisions.
In neuromarketing, researchers measure brain activity to
gauge these associations.
This offers fresh information about the mental processes
that precede decisions. These insights can lead to powerful
marketing – some say too powerful.
“Mirror neurons” impel people to echo or empathize with
other people’s actions.
Product placement works if it integrates the product into a
Overt sexual references in ads draw viewers’ attention
away from the product, but many sexual messages are
People may make purchase decisions based on “somatic
markers”: intense clusters of emotion and sensation
associated with specific stimuli, from brands to rituals.
Strong brands and religion trigger the same areas of the
Rituals and superstitions also can boost people’s emotional
connections with brands.
Visual ads are more effective when linked appropriately
with sound or smell.
The Body’s Role in Decisions
When you shop, “subconscious conversations” about what to buy are, in effect, going on in your head. The selection process is rarely conscious or rational. Often, you are responding to “somatic markers,” which are like “bookmarks” in your brain where a dense cluster of experiences and associations are fused to specific responses. These associative markers help you narrow your choices, even in specific social situations. People start forming somatic markers when they are young, but keep forming them throughout their lives.
Advertisers work hard to create these markers by linking phrases, images, music or warm feelings with their products. Often commercials create these connections in ways that have little to do with the product’s quality, but that focus instead on making a vivid, intense impression. Take Blendertec. Each week, the firm’s Web site offers new short videos of its blenders reducing all kinds of things to dust: “Bic lighters. A tiki torch…Three hockey pucks. Even an Apple iPhone.” Other advertisers shape somatic markers by using humor, playing on consumers’ fears or promoting cute mascots (the Energizer Bunny).
Mammoth neon ads are everywhere you look in New York City’s Times Square. However, these images are so common there that they overstimulate viewers, making them less likely to recall any individual sign. Marketers mount this visual barrage because they believe that sight is the most powerful sense. While sight is important, it isn’t as dominant as people assume. In fact, smell is the “most primal, the most deeply rooted” sense.
To take advantage of its potency, some companies use packaging designed to release evocative aromas, which can lead to associated thoughts and actions.
Using an integrated combination of sensory stimuli is the most powerful way to engage the senses in marketing. Pairing sight and sound, or sight and smell, has a much greater impact than visual stimuli alone. However, if you link sight and smell, but fail to integrate them appropriately, the jarring combination will work against you. It will trigger the area of the brain that registers “aversion and repulsion.”
Color, touch and sound also evoke expectations and emotional associations, and, thus, guide purchases. Over a two-week period, a supermarket alternated French and German background music. On French days, it sold more French wine. On German days, people bought more German wine. Attempts to cash in on these associations can backfire. A jingle that’s too common becomes irritating. Sex Appeal
The authors of the 2005 book Sex in Advertising estimated that 20% “of all advertising uses overt sexual content.” This content has become more extreme. Ads that seemed racy or even shocking 30 years ago now seem conservative. Do extreme sexual pitches sell products? Research says no. Explicit images draw viewers’ eyes, sliding their attention away from the product. Researchers called this “the Vampire Effect,” because in tests the sexual imagery “was sucking attention from…the ad.” Some sexual ads work, but not primarily because of the sex. Sales of Calvin Klein jeans went up in the wake of sexually explicit commercials, but only due to the controversy generated by public backlash against the ads, not because of the sexuality of the ads themselves.
Related techniques, like using exceptionally beautiful models, also have limited, ambiguous success. If viewers see the woman in an ad as wholesome and loving, they respond more favorably to the product. Likewise, showing people who seem realistic generates higher viewer identification. Viewers may want to be as attractive as the people in glamorous ads, but they are more likely to see themselves as potential users of a product if the models seem more like them.
Neuromarketing and the Future
Properly used neuromarketing can help companies predict which products will succeed or fail. Laboratory researchers who monitored viewers’ brain responses to sample television shows found that they could predict accurately which programs would do well. In fact, brain scans were more accurate than people’s own predictions about which shows they would like. Such prescreenings could help companies avoid wasting resources on products people don’t actually want, and could help them offer people products they really do wish to buy.