Friday, October 23, 2009

Review of 'BUY-OLOGY' by Martin Lindstrom

I'm reading the recent books on marketing and neuromarketing in the public library, and I started with BUY-OLOGY by Martin Lindstrom. At the end, I relate this to keeping reader interest. It's basically the same skill set.(I got the cover from Amazon. You can't really click to look inside. Sorry.)

A few things stuck out-

1. Warning labels and pictures of tumors etc. on cigarrette packaging light up the craving centers of your brain.

2. Sex is Extremely Interesting- too interesting, in fact, for people to remember the product clearly.

3. We are emotional creatures, pretending we're rational.

First, a message from our sponsors. Ivory Soap. Is it a little warm in here?

Okay, back to cigarrette packaging. Back in the day, I had a developmentally disabled client who picked the skin on her fingers until it bled. My job was to determine the cause of the behavior, and give her caretakers a procedure to follow to decrease the behavior.

I discovered that the mere sight of a bandaid would start her picking. In behavioral terms, this is called a discriminative stimulus. A really great example of this is the Krispy Kreme "Hot Now" sign. That neon lights up, and you get hungry.

It sounds like the same mechanism. Your brain doesn't look for appropriateness when it makes associations. It looks for reliability. And the warning labels--designed to be noticeable--are very reliable at predicting a nicotine rush. Can you imagine seeing this and getting a jolt in your brain that it's time for a smoke?

Warning--yucky picture of a tumor below.
The hair is kind of nasty, too.

THIS PHOTO ACTIVATES PLEASURE CENTERS in smoker's brains in the UK, where these labels are used. If advertisers were smart, they'd plaster these health warnings all over billboards and magazines as public service announcements. Oh, wait...they do. It seems like a warning, but acts like a trigger.

It appears the most effective advertising is low level and insidious. Lindstrom writes about American Idol and Coke. The judges drink it; I knew that. But did you notice the warm-up room?

Concerning point number two-Sex. Our brains get so jazzed looking at sexual images that few brain cells are left to remember our names, much less which restaurant has these burgers. Seriously. I checked McD's, Burger King and Wendy's before I did a general search for "sexy hamburger commercial" and came up with Hardees. Don't click on this if you are a recovering pornaholic.

Overtly sexual advertising is less effective, according to Lindstrom, than merely being sexy, and he predicts that in ten or so years, after things have gotten MUCH more blatant, there will be a down swing in sex in commercials.

I doubt we'll ever go back to the simple sexuality of Schrader Universal Valve Caps, but advertising will be more integrated- though not neccessarily more subtle. Like the product placements in 'Heroes'. The cameo of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" made me poke my husband and say, "Ohh! That's an ad!"

Why is this so interesting to me as a writer?

Covers are their own type of branding. There's a well-muscled man with shoulder length hair, and buxom woman held tight against his chest. You know EXACTLY what you are getting when you buy a romance. A dude on a horse with a sword, a slightly grizzled, gray-bearded man in cloak beside him, and a thin woman with pointy ears and a long bow. Epic Fantasy. Etc. If you're a well-known author, the prominent feature of your book is your name (I can read KOONTZ on my bookshelf from across the room).

Covers do the same thing an ad in a magazine does. A cover should be familiar so you have some positive associations, and fresh, so it offers something new. Which is what agents seem to want in manuscripts. Different, but not too different.

The most effective covers will tell a story on their own. They will make the reader FEEL.

Third item gleaned from Buy-ology:we are emotional first, then rational.

Psychological phenomenon like Sour Grapes and Sweet Lemons are a part of every intro psych class. We talk up what we have, and downgrade what is unattainable, i.e.- I never wanted that promotion. I'm better off without him. I'm glad I got in a car accident; my car was old.

We roughly value things based on how much we pay for them. The interesting thing is, according to Lindstrom, we also enjoy them more. We enjoy them even more if we perceive them as high value, and perceive that we've gotten a deal.

Thus, the existence of 20% off stickers that drive me nuts. Can't people see through this? Do people think a store could stay in business if they weren't getting money to cover costs plus a mark-up?

This also explains why carpet stores are perpetually going out of business. But it still helps us assign value as we make a decision. It makes it easier for the consumer to feel good about the purchase.

So, I'm thinking about offering my book on Amazon for $34.99. And the 'perfect condition' used books will be $19.99. What a deal!

And I'm going to infuse the pages in Chapter Nine with the smell of campfire. Maybe Chapter One will have vanilla and frangipahi. Scented books are coming, I promise. (Scent is the biggest portal into our emotional brain. Sensory BrandingTM. Publishing example- Paper books have a sensory brand that is vastly different from eReaders.)

Marketing has parallels to basic storytelling. Don't let your character sit alone, musing about the terrible situation he's in, let him interact with another character. Better yet, he thinks she is hitting on him, but she's saying he's hot temperature-wise, not hawt. Interaction is interesting to our brains.

I get thirty pages into my book before you know my character's hair or eye color. I'm not sure if that will stand once I get editors and agents involved, but it's deliberate. A hundred pages in I give a concrete age for the protagonist.

I want women from 14-40 (and beyond) to be able to easily fit into her head. I don't want to put up a barrier in a first-person narrative, and I deliberately start with a scene that is familiar across the world- climbing a tree, afraid of falling. I'll let you know if it works.

If you find this interesting, please let me know and I'll keep writing about it.

One of life's disappointments is discovering that the man who writes the bank's ads is not the one who makes the loans.

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