Buyology: Summary & Review

buyology book cover

In Buyology brand consultant and author Martin Lindstrom introduces and explains the emerging field of neuromarketing.

Bullet Summary

  • We are largely irrational buyers
  • Product placements don’t work (unless it’s a structural part of the story)
  • Sex can help sell.. But can also eclipse and make us forget about the product

Full Summary

Martin Lindstrom begins Buyology by explaining what’s one of his main research tool: the fMRI.

In a nutshell, the fMRI measures the amount of oxygenated blood in the brain, giving us a hint over which area of the brain gets activated. 

Why Coca-Cola Outsells Pepsi

Martin Lindstrom talks about the famous blind experiment in which Pepsi was rated as tastier than Coke.

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink says it’s because Pepsi is only better in smaller quantities. 
But that’s not the case, Lindstrom says.

The reason why Coca-Cola still outsells Pepsi is that people want to like Coke more.
Lindstrom says that the scans show a “tug of war” between the rational part of the brain who prefers Pepsi and the emotional one who prefers coke. 
More often than not, the emotional side of the brain won out.

Making Product Placement Work

To make product placement, the product must make sense within the show’s narrative. 

If the product is not a perfect fit for the show or the movie, then it might as well be wasted advertising money.

Subliminal Advertising Can Work

Some famous reports that gave vast publicity to subliminal advertising have been fabricated or exaggerated.

You can probably hardly change people’s deep-rooted beliefs with subliminal advertising, but it does work in increasing sales for a brand.

Subliminal advertising works indeed, but it depends heavily on our already existing internal associations. 
It’s indeed possible that a quickly flashing image triggers an identification in our mind before we realize it’s happening but only if have already stored information in our brain about that image.

Flashing a smiley face VS a sad one for a split of a second on a video for example increase consumption of alcohol.

Letting Guard’s Down on Subliminal Messages

Subliminal messages are particularly powerful because they reach us with our guard low.

When we see a log or when it’s obvious to us we are watching an advertisement, the logical part of our brain is engaged and we put our mental barriers up.

For example, red Ferrari, Nascar cars and cowboy images all can easily remind people of smoking even without any logo on them because of the already existing association we have between them and the cigarette brands that latched onto them.

The interesting thing in these cases is that the messages went down unfiltered into people’s brains.
Since they weren’t rationally aware of the advertising, their “defenses” against advertisement and cigarettes weren’t activated at all.

Shocking Anti-Smoking Messages Failure

The author discusses an antismoking message of people smoking and coughing blotches of fat on the table.

But the ad failed because people ignored the coughing and seeing other smoking lit up in their brain the areas that induce cravings -in this case, craving for smoking-.

Sexually Suggestive Advertising Bombs

Sexually suggestive advertising can be ineffective by “blinding” people to the logo. 
This is an effect called “vampire effect”.

Controversy Sells

The author makes the point instead that controversy sells.

Sometimes controversy and sell together sex sell, but Lindstrom says that evidence point to controversy being the most powerful contribution. 

He also mentions American Apparel’s success with the media, and you can read from their marketing director Ryan Holiday in “Trust Me, I’m Lying – Confessions of a Media Manipulator“.

Beauty Sells… Sometimes

The author says that women can be turned off by extremely attractive models on advertising as they cannot relate to them.

A study showed that more natural and more relatable models in advertisement were more effective in brand association and recall.

However, sometimes beauty can help sell thanks to mirror neurons. The author uses the example of male models for male underwear.
Mirror neurons make us feel like the attractive people in the advertising.

My Note: Mirror neurons are controversial
Mirror neurons are an elusive and overblown pop-psychology myth

Lindstrom says we are witnessing a convergence between perfect, natural, and relatable.

My Note:
Personally, I didn’t find the author very conclusive here.

buyology book cover

Real Life Applications

Don’t Fall For Brand-Religion
Some brands managed to develop rituals and a cult-following which resembles in all aspects a religion.
Don’t be duped into that.


Sometimes I felt like the author generalizes too much. 
He takes one single even and generalizes a rule saying “nope, it doesn’t work”. 
But that it didn’t work once doesn’t mean you can make a rule out of it. 

Lots of Threads But Little Conclusions
Buyology presents lots of different threads and ideas, but there is not much overarching structure.
And there are also little conclusions. Overall, it opens lots of topics but it doesn’t make a strong point on any.
I can highly recommend The Social Animal for some more evidence-based and conclusion-reaching book on psychology, influencing and advertising.

fMRI Overselling
Lindstrom presents fMRI as the ultimate scientific frontier to dispense truths and he never mentions the limitations. In my opinion, that made him lose credibility for an otherwise good book.


Lindstrom brings a lot of new and fresh perspectives into the world of marketing and into the world the developing neuro-marketing. 


Buyology has very low ratings on Amazon, but I disagree with those ratings.

I found that Buyology contains extremely interesting information and deep reflection.
Not as good as Lindstrom’s own sequel “Brandwashed“, but good nonetheless. 

Overall, it’s an important book for anyone working in marketing.

Check the best books on manipulation or get the book on Amazon

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