Summation: Lindstrom gets all excited about doing brain scans on consumers as they view advertisements and products.
Strike 1: Lindstrom seems to think that technology -- all technology -- is neutral. His example is that hammers can do nasty things but there is no need to outlaw, restrict or ban hammers. Fine, I agree. As long as we are talking about hammers, that is.
But when discussing companies doing fMRI scans on potential consumers to get at their instinctual, pre-rational impressions of advertisements and products, the BS meter goes off: this is not neutral technology. In Jerry Mander's In The Absence of the Sacred
, he makes quick work of the fallacy of "neutral technology." In short, all one has to do is ask a few questions to determine if any given technology is neutral or not. Who has access to this technology? Who will be able to control the use of this technology? Will the control be primarily democratic or will it require bureaucratic, centralized organizations to manage it? Who will primarily benefit from the use of this technology? And mainly, who can afford it? The answers to such questions should show pretty readily if a technology can honestly be considered neutral or not.
I don't know about y'all but I can't drop $7,000,000 for an fMRI machine but I'm damn sure that ConAgra, Phillip Morris, and GE can afford it... and subsequently profit from it. Neutral, my ass.
Strike 2: Dear Mr. Lindstrom, when writing about your groundbreaking new experiments that delve into the inner workings of consumer behavior, please refrain from starting each chapter with the equivalent of the following: I am now going to blow your mind with the most brilliant, coolest, most insightful bit of research ever. If it truly is all of those things, you really don't have to overtly try to convince me.
Jeez, I have to tell a marketer this?
Strike 2.5: Lindstrom fails to point out that even if marketing agencies have access to our innermost motivations, humans are not automatons that have to respond directly to the reptilian portion of our brains. Granted, it is extremely difficult to be aware of the drive behind our consumeristic urges, but for that I would point readers to Hooked: Buddhist Writings on Greed Desire and the Urge to Consume.
In fact, if anyone is interested in why people buy crappy products they don't need with money they don't have, start with Hooked
and leave Lindstrom to his chest thumping.
One redeeming feature of the book: Lindstrom does a nice job of showing how effective various advertising strategies are. Product placement in movies and television? Unless the product is essential to the plot, folks just don't remember it. I found his discussion of the ban on tobacco advertising and how tobacco companies have had to get really creative in their marketing to be pretty interesting. It turns out that subliminal advertising works really well for well known, established brands like Camel, Marlboro, etc. But overall, these nuggets weren't worth the effort of sifting through the rest of the rubbish....