Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy

Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy

Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy

Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy



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From the bestselling author of Buyology comes a shocking insider’s look at how today’s global giants conspire to obscure the truth and manipulate our minds, all in service of persuading us to buy.
Marketing visionary Martin Lindstrom has been on the front lines of the branding wars for over twenty years.  Here, he turns the spotlight on his own industry, drawing on all he has witnessed behind closed doors, exposing for the first time the full extent of the psychological tricks and traps that companies devise to win our hard-earned dollars.
Picking up from where Vance Packard's bestselling classic, The Hidden Persuaders, left off more than half-a-century ago, Lindstrom reveals how advertisers and corporations:
   • Intentionally target children at an alarmingly young age
   • Stoke the flames of public panic and capitalize on paranoia over global contagions, extreme weather events, and food contamination scares.
   • Are secretly mining our digital footprints to uncover some of the most intimate details of our private lives
   • Purposely adjust their formulas in order to make their products chemically addictive  
   • And much, much more. 

This searing expose introduces a new class of tricks, techniques, and seductions--the Hidden Persuaders of the 21st century--and shows why they are more insidious and pervasive than ever.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385531740
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/20/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: eBook
Pages: 304
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

MARTIN LINDSTROM was voted one of the World's 100 Most Influential people of 2009 by Time magazine. Among the globe's foremost marketers--now turned consumer advocate--Lindstrom has advised top executives at companies such as McDonald's Corporation, Procter & Gamble, and Microsoft. His book, Buyology, was a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller and voted "Pick of the Year" by USA Today. He is also chairman and co-founder of Buyology Inc.

Read an Excerpt


Buy Buy Baby


Located in Paris, CEW France, short for Cosmetic Executive Women, is a group of 270 female beauty-business professionals whose avowed mission is to show the world that beauty products not only are more than a trivial indulgence but can actually be used to improve people's lives. To that end, in 1996, CEW set up its first-ever Center of Beauty at one of Europe's most prestigious hospitals, with the goal of providing emotional and psychological support to patients afflicted by trauma or disease.

Many of the patients at the center suffer from dementia or from amnesia caused by brain traumas resulting from car, motorcycle, skiing, and other accidents. Some are comatose. Many are alert but can no longer speak. Most can't remember any details of their accidents, how they ended up in the hospital, or in many cases even their names.

Which is why the professionals at the Center of Beauty, led by former psychotherapist Marie-France Archambault, decided to enter their patients' pasts through their noses. Teaming up with the international fragrance company International Flavors and Fragrances, Archambault's team has bottled more than 150 distinct aromas, including the forest, grass, rain, the ocean, chocolate, and many others, and then run what they call olfactive workshops, in which they use these fragrances to help patients regain memories they've lost.

CEW works closely with hospital medical teams and language therapists and also brings in family members and close friends to create a portrait of the life a patient was leading before his or her accident took place. Where did he grow up? In the country? In the city? What were the smells of his childhood? What were his youthful passions, his hobbies? His favorite foods and drinks? What smells might be most familiar? Then they design fragrances to trigger those memories.

CEW worked with one former cosmetics company executive who had suffered a serious stroke. When probed by doctors, he remembered almost nothing about his past. Yet once the CEW team placed the smell of strawberry under his nose, the patient began speaking haltingly about his youth. For another severely impaired patient who had no recollection of his motorcycle accident, the mere smell of street pavement was enough to "unfreeze" his brain. Just murmuring the words "tar, motorcycle" after sniffing the scent helped him take his first cognitive steps toward recovery.

The team has also worked with geriatric and Alzheimer's patients who, after being exposed to fragrances from their childhoods, have shown radical improvements in recalling who they were and are.

What this goes to show is that certain associations and memories from our childhoods are resilient enough to survive even the most debilitating of brain traumas. When I first heard about this amazing CEW program, it confirmed a suspicion I'd had for a long time, namely, that most of our adult tastes and preferences-whether for food, drink, clothes, shoes, cosmetics, shampoos, or anything else-are actually rooted in our early childhoods. After all, if a childhood love for the smell of strawberry can survive a serious stroke, the preference must be pretty deeply ingrained, right?

Studies have indeed shown that a majority of our brand and product preferences (and in some cases the values that they represent) are pretty firmly embedded in us by the age of seven. But based on what I've seen in my line of work, I'd posit that, thanks in no small part to the tricks and manipulations of probing marketers, stealth advertisers, and profit--driven companies that you'll be reading about throughout this book, our brand preferences are set in stone even before that-by the age of four or five. In fact, based on some new research I've uncovered, I'd even go so far to suggest that some of the cleverest manufacturers in the world are at work trying to manipulate our taste preferences even earlier. Much earlier. Like before we're even born.

Born to Buy

When I was very young, my parents loved the sound of bossa nova. Stan Getz. Astrud Gilberto. "The Girl from Ipanema," "Corcovado," "So Danco Samba," and all the others. There was one long, dreary winter when they played bossa nova practically nonstop. So I suppose it's little wonder I grew up to be completely in love with its sound (as I still am today).

Only thing is, my mother was seven months pregnant with me that winter.

Scientists have known for years that maternal speech is audible in utero; in other words, a fetus can actually hear the mother's voice from inside the womb. But more recent research has found that a developing fetus can hear a far broader range of tones that come from outside the mother's body as well. It used to be assumed that the mother's internal bodily sounds (the beat of the heart, the swooshing of the amniotic fluid) drowned out all external noises-like music. But studies reveal this isn't quite true; in fact, not only can soon-to-be babies hear music from inside the womb, but the music they hear leaves a powerful and lasting impression that can actually shape their adult tastes. Says Minna Huotilainen, a research fellow at the Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland, "Music is very powerful in producing fetal memories. When the mother frequently listens to music, the fetus will learn to recognize and prefer that same music compared to other music." What's more, she adds, "The fetus will build the same musical taste with his/her mother automatically, since all the hormones of the mother are shared by the fetus." I guess that may explain why I still have so many bossa nova CDs in my collection. And on my iPod.

In and of itself, this seems pretty harmless, even kind of sweet. After all, who wouldn't feel a little warm and fuzzy inside knowing that their adult love of the Beatles or Norah Jones may be rooted in the fact that Mom listened to Abbey Road and "Don't Know Why" over and over while she was pregnant? But when you think about how many tunes, sounds, and jingles are linked to brands and products, this all starts to seem a whole lot more sinister. And there is indeed evidence to indicate that hearing tunes and jingles in the womb favorably disposes us to those jingles-and possibly the brands with which they are associated-later on.

In one study, Professor Peter Hepper of the Queen's University, Belfast, found that newborn babies will actually show a preference for a TV theme song (the more basic and repetitive the better) that was heard frequently by their mothers during their pregnancies. When newborns-just two to four days old-whose mothers had watched the long- running Australian TV soap opera Neighbours during pregnancy were played that show's theme song, they became more alert and less agitated, stopped squirming, and had a decreased heart rate-signs that they were orienting well to their environment. And it wasn't just because music in general has soothing qualities; as Hepper reported, those same infants "showed no such reaction to other, unfamiliar tunes."

How can we explain this striking finding? Says another globally recognized fetal researcher, who chooses to remain anonymous, "While it is very difficult to test newborn babies, and the studies to date have been done on small numbers of children, it is possible that fetuses could develop a response to sounds heard repeatedly while they were in the womb, especially if those sounds were associated with a change in the mother's emotional state. So if, for example, the mother heard a catchy jingle every day while pregnant and the mother had a pleasant or relaxing response to the jingle, the fetus, and later the newborn, could have a conditioned response to that sound pattern and attend to it differently than other unfamiliar sounds." In other words, the minute we're born, we may already be biologically programmed to like the sounds and music we were exposed to in utero.

Shrewd marketers have begun to cook up all kinds of ways to capitalize on this. For one, a few years ago, a major Asian shopping mall chain realized that since pregnant mothers spent a great deal of time shopping, the potential for "priming" these women was significant. Pregnancy, after all, is among the most primal, emotional periods in women's lives. Between the hormonal changes and the nervous anticipation of bringing another life into the world, it's also one of the times when women are most vulnerable to suggestion. So the shopping mall chain began experimenting with the unconscious power of smells and sounds. First, it began spraying Johnson & Johnson's baby powder in every area of the mall where clothing was sold. Then it infused the fragrance of cherry across areas of the mall where one could buy food and beverages. Then it started playing soothing music from the era when these women were born (in order to evoke positive memories from their own childhoods, a popular tactic you'll read more about later on).

The mall executives were hoping this would boost sales among pregnant mothers (which it did). But to everyone's surprise, it also had another far more unexpected result. A year or so into the sensory experiment, the chain began to be inundated by letters from mothers attesting to the spellbinding effect the shopping center had on their now newborns. Turns out the moment they entered the mall, their babies calmed down. If they were fussing and crying, they simmered down at once, an effect that 60 percent of these women claimed they'd experienced nowhere else, not even places where they were exposed to equally pleasant smells and sounds. After analyzing these perplexing findings, the mall management finally concluded that the baby powder and cherry scents and the comforting, soothing sounds (-including these mothers' own heartbeats, the sound of children giggling, and a carefully choreographed selection of instruments and repetitive rhythms) had infiltrated the womb. As a result, a whole new generation of Asian consumers were drawn-subconsciously, of course-to that shopping mall. And though management hasn't been able to measure the long-term effects of these "primed" baby shoppers, some evidence indicates that these shopping mall experiments may have a potent effect on the shopping habits of the next generation for years to come.

You Are What Mom Eats

Pregnant women the world over know that what they consume has a profound effect on their unborn child. The typical mother-to-be kicks off the pregnancy diet the moment the doctor gives her the joyous news. From now on, no more pinot grigio at dinner. If she snuck a cigarette every now and then, well, those days are over. But what many pregnant women don't know is that what they consume doesn't just affect the baby's development while it's in the womb; it actually influences the baby's adult habits.

It's been found that when mothers smoke during pregnancy, their children are more likely to become smokers by the age of twenty-two. Similarly, when mothers consume a lot of junk food during pregnancy, children are more likely to later have a strong affinity for junk food. In a study published in 2007 in the British Journal of Nutrition, Stephanie Bayol and her team at the Royal Veterinary College in London fed groups of pregnant and lactating rats two different diets; one was a normal rat diet, and the other included copious amounts of junk food: jelly doughnuts, potato chips, muffins, marshmallows, you name it. It turned out that the baby rats whose mothers had consumed all that junk food were 95 percent more likely to overeat than those whose mothers had eaten rat chow alone (and they later grew up to become 25 percent fatter than the other little fellows).

And this doesn't just happen in rats. A 2007 study of 1,044 mother-and- child pairs at Harvard Medical School found that the children of women who gained "excessive weight" during pregnancy were four times more likely to become overweight in early childhood than those born to mothers who "gained inadequate weight." In other words, even controlling for genetic, dietary, and other behavioral factors, mothers who ate more gave birth to children more likely to eat more. "If [a mother] eats healthy food, the child will prefer healthy food," explains researcher Josephine Todrank, PhD. Todrank conducted a two- year study on pregnant mothers and fetuses at the University of Colorado School of Medicine that concluded that a pregnant mother's diet not only sensitizes a fetus to those fragrances and flavors but physically transforms the fetal brain, thereby affecting what the baby consumes in the future.

It turns out that just as with music, we also develop preferences for specific tastes and flavors in the womb. There's real biological credence for this; it's been found that strong tastes and aromas-like garlic-pass through the mother's amniotic fluid and are actually "tasted" by the fetus. As Minna Huotilainen explains, "All olfaction and taste sensations are mediated through the amniotic fluid floating in the nasal cavity and the mouth. It has been known for a long time that the amniotic fluid is rich in the concentration of fragrances typical to the mother's diet."

This goes a long way in explaining why one study found that when a mother ate a lot of a food with the taste of garlic or vanilla during the last 3 months of pregnancy, the newborn chose milk that smells like garlic or vanilla over milk that didn't, and a 2001 experiment found that babies whose mothers drank carrot juice during pregnancy later expressed preference for carrot flavored cereal over the plain variety. Says Julie Menella, a psychobiologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, "Mothers are giving information to their offspring through what they consume during pregnancy and breast- feeding, telling them this is about what is good and safe for us to eat."

Menella explains that because amniotic fluid retains the flavors and aromas of the foods, drinks, and spices consumed or inhaled by the mother, and because the unborn child's olfactory and taste systems are fully functional by the last two trimesters, as early as week twelve, the neonate can actually detect these flavors and aromas-and develop an affinity that will influence his or her preferences as a baby and beyond. "The sense of smell is created in the womb-in the embryo," says International Flavors and Fragrances' group president, Nicolas Mirzayantz. "Smell is the most powerful, the most primitive, the most directly hard-wired in our brains. And the first contact with the outside world are those smells we associate with our mothers. How many foods are successful because we are primed at a young age?" he asks hypothetically. "Many. I think the first four years are instrumental."

Believe it or not, companies are not only onto this but are using it to their advantage. How? Well, to give one example, Kopiko-a popular, successful Philippine candy brand that can be found in even the smallest mom-and-pop store in any Philippine town, has figured out a way to win over the taste buds of the unborn.

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