Martin in the News

Fast Company: How Much Is That Ice Cream In The Window? Depends On The Season


Why fluctuating supermarket prices should be coming soon.

A few years ago, driving over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I realized something had changed.

In place of the decades-old, same-all-the-time fare, the toll had begun to fluctuate depending on the time of day and night. “That’s curious,” I thought. But my surprise was short-lived, as I reflected on how the price of nearly everything—stock prices, interest rates, airline seats, gasoline, gold, even chocolate—fluctuates these days.

As a branding guy, I’m called in when brands tank, customers flee the stores, or consumers start removing logos from their shirts. Traveling the world 300 days a year, I’ve seen more than my share of brand and retail innovations: dynamic store designs in Korea, where every wall, lamp, and shelf changes position by the hour; luxurious supermarkets in Zurich that produce butter and sausages before your eyes; ranking-based Tokyo retailers where only products selling well—this very hour!—stay on the shelves.

Our new digital universe creates fascinating—some might say scary—new opportunities for retailers. Innovations dating back to the 1950s, when the very name “supermarket” was invented, are looking like something from the Stone Age.

Consider the latest innovation from Target, a retailer previously known for sometimes ponderous decision-making. Target’s new Cartwheel app offers while-you-shop discounts to users, mostly highly coveted Millennials, up to 600 promotions at any one time. The discounts download right to the shopper’s phone, allowing her to redeem them at the cash register and save them for future shopping trips. Cartwheel even offers a “leader board,” where Facebook friends can compare how much they’ve saved. The results on Cartwheel are in: Active users increase their trips to Target, and their spending, by 30%.

Soon we’re likely to witness systems like these linked to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you’re well-friended, well-followed, or widely retweeted, your discounts will grow. And why shouldn’t they? If you’re the sort of person who spends two hours a day investigating the best prices and if you are connected to lots of friends, then the retailer knows you’re a great ambassador for the store. Where you lead, the world is likely to follow.

But even Cartwheel will soon become old news.

Last year I introduced a new retail concept in North Carolina. Just$ave Foods, a small discount chain, had problems figuring out why customers should choose them. Did they offer better prices than Walmart? No. Better selection? Of course not. So what could they use as their point of differentiation?

I arrived at the solution—gaming-based shopping—by considering insights into coupon shopping. Through hundreds of ethnographic visits to U.S. shoppers, I had learned that shoppers value coupons for two reasons—and discount pricing is not one of them! First, coupons are about the hunt, the joy of finding a good deal. Second, couponing helps to justify the housewife or househusband’s role, enhancing her or his sense of purpose in contributing to the family’s financial situation.

But shopping, with or without coupons, is painfully boring. Over a lifetime, the average shopper spends 23,300 hours pushing a shopping cart.

At Just$ave, we turned shopping into a game. As customers enter the store, a digital display announces: “Run! Milk is on sale—half price—for the next seven minutes!” Store-wide speakers announce: “Angus beef on sale!” We turned shopping at Just$ave into a contest, and customers loved it.

The Tokyo, Target, and Just$ave experiences lead us toward a world of creative retailing. We’re already seeing dynamic pricing in several different businesses. Since 2010, the ride-scoring app Uber has been charging “surge pricing,” as much as nine times the base price of the ride, during peak demand times. San Francisco’s gourmet meal-delivery service Sprig varies its delivery charge based on distance and time of day.

In the grocery business, the prices you pay will one day be based on several factors: your status, your popularity, and the time of day. Enter the store early in the morning, and you’ll find moderate prices. Revisit the store at 10:30 a.m., and prices will have hit rock bottom. Why? Because foot traffic is low at 10:30, and the traffic of senior citizens is high. As the day passes or the weather changes or the weekend approaches, prices will fluctuate—hour by hour, even minute by minute.

If it’s scorching hot outside, ice cream prices will be high. Is snow falling? There aren’t many takers for ice cream, and lower prices will entice them to buy. A frantic late-night run for ice cream? Don’t be surprised if the store asks you to pay an extra 7%.

Is it fair? Not entirely. But is it fair that the passenger sitting next to you on the airplane paid a different price, based on when he bought his ticket, who sold it, or—some day—how many Twitter followers he has?

We’ve turned into an instant-gratification generation, and savvy retailers are likely to follow us. The question is not if all this will happen, but when.

Ice Cream: via Shutterstock

Read More

Fast Company: How the News Business Can Survive Facebook

1The social network’s plans to control even more of the media industry squeezed a collective gasp out of publishers. Was that a last breath?

Facebook recently wrapped up a “listening tour,” hoping to lure publishers across the United States to deliver their content pages and news feeds to Facebook. The idea was that these pages would take on their own life within the mobile portion of the social media space. Since Facebook’s 1.4 billion users give it the world’s biggest platform, it goes without saying that this move would define the very future of news delivery.

Many publishers were aghast. People in the world of branding felt something else: déjà vu. Can you hear the whisper: Private labels? Sell us your merchandise as cheaply as you can. In return, we’ll label it with our brand name and sell it in our stores, and perhaps—only perhaps—we’ll mention you in a rather offhand manner. Supermarkets love the private-label concept, since it transfers consumer loyalty into their courtyard; manufacturers hate it, since it leaves them stripped of all consumer loyalty and in possession of only one remaining strategy for leverage: price.

What does this have to do with news? Well, think about the last time you bought a newspaper. Chances are, you hardly remember. That’s how long ago it was.

For me, it’s become an obsession, avoiding typing in my credit card number when asked to pay to read an article. Just like you, I love the free New York Times, but when the system tells me my quota is up, I don’t reach for my credit card. Instead, I open another browser to get access to another round of articles. That’s just how I’ve been trained—and I’ll bet you have, too.

Take a look at the music industry. In the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal, recorded music sales are nearly 50% below their peak from 2000. According to RIS of America, U.S. revenue from downloads of singles and albums fell 11% and 14%, respectively, in the first half of 2014; and music sales at Apple’s iTunes Store fell 13% since the start of the year.

Streaming looks like a winner, leaping 28% in the first six months of this year. If you were wondering why Apple purchased Beats Music, with its $10-a-month subscription streaming service, that’s the answer. But the writing is on the wall. A price war in the streaming music world: It’s the dynamics of private labels all over again.

In the early 1980s, far off in the Alps, the world-famous Swiss watch manufacturing industry faced a crisis similar to that confronting the music and news industries today. Though the Swiss had introduced the first commercial quartz wristwatch, they had been slow to see its potential. It was the Japanese who ran with the idea. Within one year, 66% of the analog watch industry had died.

What was the Swiss manufacturers’ response? They panicked!

But once their panic subsided, they did something surprising. Among the things the Swiss are very good at is holding alignment meetings. Remember the Phoebus light bulb cartel, organized by the Swiss in the 1920s? It fixed the life expectancy of light bulbs at 1,000 hours, a standard of obsolescence that still endures.

Every major player in the Swiss watch industry joined to launch an operation called S-W-A-T-C-H. That’s right. The disposable plastic watches were born in 1983. The Swiss turned time into fashion and fashion into a successful weapon against quartz technology. Today, the Swiss watch industry supplies content to almost every watch manufactured in the world. I’ve heard rumors that even the Rolex contains parts provided by Swatch. Today, the Swiss watch industry is thriving.

What would have happened if the Swiss had been unwilling or unable to align themselves? An entire industry would have vanished overnight.

So is the news industry’s solution really that simple: alignment?

Let’s rerun the Swiss approach, using the news industry as our guinea pig. Imagine an alignment of the entire news industry. Not an easy task, but not impossible, either, given that the entire industry is on the brink of collapse. Based on some back-of-the-envelope calculations, I reckon that if the five dominating media companies joined forces, 80% of original-content news would be owned by that collective.

The five common-front news houses would need to make just one move: no more streaming of free news. The result? No more free news for Google News. No more Facebook news feed. If you want the news, you’ll have to buy it.

Of course, there would be a deafening uproar, followed by creative attempts to secure free news in other ways. But before long, consumers would remember that news—like other commodities—costs money to produce. They’ve realized it in Scandinavia, where news houses aligned and the “free news” button disappeared.

Overnight, the ball game would change. This wouldn’t solve every problem; monetizing the online world is still an ongoing challenge. But for the first time in a very long time, the news houses would find themselves in the driver’s seat.

The clock, of course, is ticking. AOL and Yahoo have already geared up their news machines, creating the illusion of real media by hiring the likes of Katie Couric and infusing a dose of Huffington Post to their editorial departments. But these online media outlets still have a long way to go before they truly own news production.

The Swiss showed that it’s possible to turn back time. Now let’s see if the media industry can put the news back in Pandora’s box.

Photo: Flickr user Franco Pecchio

Read More

Fast Company: A Not-So-Modest Plan To Save Bookstores From The Grim Reaper That Is Amazon

3038236-2Physical bookstores have no chance if they try to compete against Amazon’s selection and price. There must be another way.

I have a love affair with bookstores: the search, the smell, the tactile sensation of turning pages. I know I’m not alone: There are lots of customers who still love bookstores.

And yet, bookstores keep shutting their doors. Is the bookstore doomed? Yes, I‘m afraid it is—if it continues to compete with Amazon on price and volume. That’s a losing battle. But if bookstores compete on qualities that Amazon will never be able to duplicate, I believe there’s hope! (Provided Amazon doesn’t open too many physical stores.)

But first, a quick trip to Milan’s Malpensa Airport. Because it was there that I noticed how passengers were directed through the airport by a system of different colored lines. Transit: red. Exit: green. Shopping: yellow. As soon as I figured out the system, I never looked up anymore; I merely followed the red stripe on the floor.

What does this have to do with bookstores?

Amazon introduced the concept of mass-reader reviews. Bookstores have the ability to take this even further. Reading the right book gives us a sense of power, influence, and newness. It makes us interesting, gives us a reason to talk, and puts us in the center of things. That’s the role a bookstore should assume.

Every bookstore has authors popping by to sign books. This should be the heart of any smart bookstore as it brings customers close to the source.

Every author is a repository of knowledge about great books, creative thoughts, and reflections. A bookstore might ask each prominent author that visits to create a line through the store. If a store is lucky enough to host E. L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, they could ask her to pinpoint 10 books she adores. Assign the color grey to her (of course!). Draw a grey line through the store, leading the customer on a tour of James’s beloved books. Interview James about these books. Which book made her cry, which changed her life, which inspired her? Record the interview, place iPads around the store, and let visitors play the video as they follow the grey line from book to book.

But recommendations can’t be the only answer. Bookstores need to tap into every customers’ sensory experience. Think of all the book genres that lend themselves to sensory exploration: all the cookbooks, gardening books, the do-it-yourself books.

The entrance of every bookstore could become a sensory exploration zone: a movable kitchen, a mini-garden, a tool shed—something which not only catches the customer’s eye, but generates interest by stimulating all the senses.

I would allocate two or three days a week for new cookbook authors to visit the store, bring their own ingredients, and use the kitchen free-of-charge. The bookstore would fill with the aroma of cookbooks! I would invite garden authors to bring pots, seeds, and plants, and demonstrate some of their garden tricks. Do-it-yourself authors could come and demonstrate their skills, everything from building a model plane to restoring a door. Then stores could promote their books—physically and online.

There’s no way bookstores can compete on price and selection with Amazon. Period.
But there’s no way Amazon can compete on the smell from the most amazing roasted chicken, the revelation you’ve just learned as you’ve witnessed first-hand how to renovate your beloved chair, or the aha! moment as Ms. James introduces you to her source of inspiration while you walk through your favorite bookstore. In short, book sellers in the physical world must borrow from the digital world: dig into user experience and engagement.

Show me the bookstore that does this, and I’ll go in a heartbeat.

Wouldn’t you?

Read More

Think holiday shopping’s ‘soulless?’ This Japanese trend can fix that

lips-1024x658-2The times when Black Friday and Cyber Monday were one-day events are long gone. Data from search engine giant Google show that close to 90 percent of shoppers have turned these days into “mini-shopping-holidays,” rather than one-day events. But the Japanese, known for turning shopping into a fine art, may be pointing the way to yet another new trend in shopping.

For decades, the Japanese culture has led consumer innovation. They introduced everything from portable music players to video cameras, from the compact discs to the cartoon obsession — and who could forget Hello Kitty? If you ask Japanese people what they’ll do on any given vacation, most will answer: shopping. For the Japanese, the term “shopping-holiday” is just as accepted as “beach-holiday.”

There’s no better place in the world to predict the future of consumption.

The newest shopping trend—which is sure to reach foreign shores soon—is also born in Japan. It is narrative-based second-hand shopping.

Pass the Baton! is a chain of Japanese stores that is leading the way in this next generation shopping that is attracting increasing attention from international trend scouts. Its flagship store, located in Omotesando, Tokyo’s high-end fashion district, runs in the face of Japan’s decades-long tradition of “use it and throw it away.” At Pass the Baton!, second-hand fashion and used home products are mixed with brand-new merchandise.

Tokyo is considered the world’s most competitive retail market, so it is hard to imagine second-hand shopping succeeding there — but Pass the Baton! is packed with customers.

What explains the chain’s success? The Japanese have managed to add a new twist that might point toward a soon-to-be-discovered global trend: storytelling.

A message posted next to a vase reads: “I had to move because I broke up with my girlfriend – my new apartment was simply too small to keep this amazing vase – I was afraid my dog would crush it.”

Pick any product from any shelf, and you’ll find a business card-sized description of the item. But that’s not all. You’ll also find a Quick Response Code (those little, pixelated barcodes that one sees everywhere these days) featuring a portrait of the previous owner. If you click on it, a small video tells you how the owner secured the item, how they maintained it, and why they decided to sell it.

The Japanese have fallen in love with the concept.

“Simply buying a product no longer gives me the thrill it once did,” says 23-year-old Kenji-san Mishima. “Pass the Baton! infuse their products with authenticity. They make me love shopping again.”

Pass on the Baton isn’t alone in realizing that consumers have become tired of factory-manufactured products. Department store MOJI has jumped on the concept by introducing a “pop-up market.” On the top floor of its flagship store in Tokyo’s trendy Shibuya neighborhood, you’ll find clothing, tableware, decoration items, and even books, each accompanied by a story about its origin. So far these are just handpicked prototypes, but if they prove marketable, MOJI plans to expand the concept to all its stores.

The Japanese second-hand movement points toward a new trend. Call it “desperately seeking authenticity.” A new flat screen television, T-shirt, drinking glass, or picture frame — no matter how nice — is essentially soulless. After decades of obsessive shopping, the Japanese consumer seems to feel this emotional vacuum. As a result, they are turning toward purchases they perceive as having a personal story.

This brings me back to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Recession, environmental concerns, and consumption satiety may describe why this week’s consumption spree may not rise to the level of craziness of recent years.

Perhaps consumers in the West are also starting to feel a sense of emptiness after their shopping-sprees.

If so, they may start searching for a sense of purpose in the products they buy, and the trend of recent generations — buy it, use it, and throw it out —will become a thing of the past.

The current holiday shopping season has more ho-hum than ho-ho, but maybe once Japan’s storytelling trend comes to America, retailers will be able to captivate consumers, and shopping will once again be America’s favorite and most thrilling pastime.

PHOTO: A woman walks past an image of lips at a department store in Tokyo July 30, 2010. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao
Read More

Martin Lindstrom teams up with NBC’s Today Show to help small Mom & Pop businesses survive

To show how a business turn-around is not only possible, but completely do-able in a very compressed timeframe, Today Show and I looked for 2 businesses that qualified for a makeover. Tune into NBC’s today show on February 1 and 2 for a two part series on what we did, and on what the results were.

Read More

Fast Company: The Truth About Being “Done” Versus Being “Perfect”

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – September 25, 2012

Ideas are easy–believing in them is the hard part

In 2010, a small California-based company opened its doors for business. They didn’t have much capital but, with a staff of only four, they did have a singular vision–to outdo Kodak. Even through the rosiest of glasses, this would not appear a feasible proposition. It’s a scenario that makes David versus Goliath look like a fair fight. But 18 months later, the company of four, which had become a company of 13, was sold to Facebook for $1 billion.

It was a sale that made headlines the world over. Instagram was the new digital sensation. They were perfectly in sync with a generation that records everything on their iPhones, and their service that enables the most amateur picture-taker’s photos to look like they’ve come out of a professional studio, was, well, an insta-hit.

Let’s go back a little farther, still. In 2003, a small mobile game development company from Finland appeared on the map. Taking their cue from the likes of Hasbro, the U.S. giant of interactive games, they wanted to create a small, fun, and dead-cheap game. Operating in the country where Nokia had so dominated the digital landscape, it came, naturally, to use smartphones as their platform. Six years later Rovio Entertainment launched Angry Birds. On May 9, 2012, the company announced the one-billionth download of the game.

Instagram and Angry Birds are not unique. One needs to look no further than Netflix and Blockbuster–and Skype and the entire telecommunication world–for similar stories. Small startups, which despite all the odds, manage to succeed against well-established conglomerates with all the expertise that money can buy.

All the aforementioned startups began with nothing but an idea. How difficult is that? Having worked with some of the world’s largest companies, I’ve come to realize that the idea is the easy part; the hard part is getting your company to believe in it.

If you’d entered Facebook’s headquarters sometime around 2010, you’d have seen a sign painted on the wall: “Done is better than perfect.” I have no doubt that if you walked into the offices of any Fortune 100 brand you would see no such thing. Their legal, compliance, or human resources departments would insist on it being removed. And yet, had Facebook waited so much as a year to perfect its model, the company might very well be where MySpace is today.

“Done is better than perfect” is not about coming up with ideas; it’s about believing in them. And having an attitude that compels you to run with the idea before it’s too late.

My ultimate dream as a kid was fulfilled by the time I was eight. This is when I visited the research lab developing LEGO. To be in the place where new toys were being developed before they hit the market–this was my version of the Willy Wonka fantasy. I’ll never forget my encounter with the head designer as he showed me the newly developed LEGO train. I could barely contain myself, it was just… well, the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

I spluttered out: “When can I buy it?” He said, “In about three years time.” That just baffled me. I wanted to know how he could project that far ahead. His answer was simple. He said, “Because we’re LEGO.” A few years later LEGO experienced its biggest drop in sales. It was the same year that the first hand-held computer games hit the market. It would take LEGO another 20 years to reduce their R&D cycle to less than a year.

Another Facebook motto says: “Move fast and break things.” Can you think of any Fortune 100 brand that is not only be prepared to say this, but actually means it? Google, Apple, Amazon, and perhaps Samsung. Anything in common? They are all innovative technology companies with a new style of leadership.

Until recently, Sony was the world’s leading electronics company, and then something went wrong. Was it lack of ideas? Having spoken with insiders and experts, I put it down to arrogance. A bit of cultural background is also relevant here. Historically, there’s always been friction between the Japanese and the Koreans. A few years ago, the Korean company, Samsung, knocked on the door of Japanese-owned Sony. They wanted to team up with Sony to produce LCD screens. Rumor has it that mainly due to cultural baggage, Sony politely refused. The rest is history. Samsung is the leading manufacturer in six electronic categories in the United States alone.

Whenever I spend time in boardrooms across the world, I can’t help but notice that courage seems to be a limited currency. No matter how the company presents itself, it seems CEOs rarely have the power one would imagine. The fact of the matter is that companies of this magnitude tend to be run by committees that make the tough decisions and take the risks. The problem is that committees rarely have courage–only people do.

At another company, on another wall I noticed another slogan: “Let the consumer build the brand.” This was Skype. Skype is not a Fortune 100 brand just yet, but with Microsoft’s recent $8.5 billion acquisition, it may soon become one. With widespread recognition in the developed world, and almost no advertising, this slogan rings fortuitously true. Bear in mind that Skype is less than nine years old, and its blue icon has found its way to millions of computer screens with not a single ad.

I often conduct the Skype challenge with my clients. If all advertising was banned, and the game was to increase sales, what would you do? You’d be surprised to find how creative even the least creative person can become. But what’s even more surprising is that most have never so much as entertained this as a possibility. As one executive explained, “Why should we? We’re running one of the most successful companies in the world.”

There was a time when he was probably right–but no longer. The reality is that there’s a new set of rules in town, and they’re scarily simple. They’re also scarily powerful once you get them. However, getting them right is the hard part. If you can claim the management of your company truly lives by the mantra that “done” is better than “perfect,” and that the organization’s survival is about moving fast and breaking things, then you need to ask them if they’re prepared to cut out advertising. It’s more than likely their answer would still be, “No.”

But at this very moment, someone is hanging one of those fine Facebook posters on their business’ office wall. And like David, armed with little more than a slingshot and a stone, they’re acting on pure courage and just going for it, because that’s one of the rules of survival today–not tomorrow.

[Image: Photo mashup by Joel Arbaje]

Read More

Fast Company: What Teddy Bears, Picture Frames, And Condoms Have In Common

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – September 10, 2012

You may not be able to buy love, but perhaps you can buy a related feeling: security

If you’ve followed my work over the last couple of years, you’ll know how I consider spending time in consumers’ homes an essential part of my work. As increasingly more of our time is taken up with emails, sitting in board meetings, and finding ways to navigate the global financial crisis, we’ve forgotten those who are really paying our salaries–the consumer. Research reports and focus groups are good at defining demographics, but fail to reveal those small personal insights that can transform a brand. This is why I’ve spent thousands of hours in consumers’ homes trying to understand what makes consumers tick (and what doesn’t). This has resulted in many fantastic insights–including finding out what teddy bears, picture frames, and condoms have in common. (More on that soon.)

The industry term for this type of investigative work borrows from anthropology–it’s called an “ethnographic study.” In theory, it does not require that much. All that’s needed is a pen, a notebook, and a family willing to invite you into their home where for a few hours they briefly share their lives. You’d be amazed just how much you can learn by observing people–enough even to change the entire philosophy of a company. And that’s my mission. I drag my clients into their consumers’ homes to let them discover firsthand who the people that pay their salaries really are.

Sometime I take CEOs who run multibillion-dollar companies and board members along on these visits. Their job is to observe. We sit around kitchens in North Carolina and Mississippi. There we defer to boys whose fingers fly across controls of Game Boys and PlayStations, or young girls who groove to Adele. Little do these families know that every move they make or question they answer could redefine the future for millions of people.

I remember once I took a client into a family home where they failed to refrigerate the very popular beverage he presided over. They nonchalantly explained that they’d run out of fridge space. Yet in all the company’s communications they’d emphasized that their drink is one that must be consumed cold. However, in this family home other household items were in place. Milk was in the side of the fridge door, eggs were in the egg tray, and fruit and vegetables were in the drawers. There were other beverages being kept cold, but not this CEO’s company’s drink.

This may not seem too big a deal, but when a beverage manufacturer is earning millions from a drink that’s best served chilled, it’s important to know why the Vitamin Water has taken priority, and his company’s drink has been relegated to the pantry floor.

It took two years to work through the obstacles. The key issue involved parents’ resistance to their children’s consumption of a drink that they didn’t think had any nutritious value (which it indeed had). With research and a lot of hard work, parents accepted the drink and eventually felt comfortable with it in the fridge, alongside the juice and milk.

During ethnographic visits it is my habit to take in everything in the home. I notice what’s hanging on the walls, I peruse the books on the shelves, the DVDs lying around the living room, the magazines in the bathroom, and, if I’m to be totally honest, I’ll even rifle through closed drawers. After years of going into people’s homes, I began noticing a steady increase in, well, teddy bears, picture frames, and condoms. I date this change back to 2009. Besides being kept in bathroom and bedside-table drawers, I now began seeing condoms displayed in glass vases like candy. Then there are the teddy bears. For over a century they have been a feature in young children’s bedrooms. However, it seems that these days teddy bears are growing older with the children they initially comforted. It’s quite likely you’ll still find them on the pillow of an average teenage girl’s bedroom, and even beyond.

What could explain this? The answer came to me as I began spending time with some of the more sophisticated retailers whose window displays are using pictures in frames. They’ve also been hanging framed images along the entrances to their store–and not just a few images but as many as 40 or 50. It’s a psychological reality. The less secure we feel in a financially unstable universe, the greater our need to “frame our lives.” As Keisha M. Cutright, an assistant professor of marketing at Wharton points out in a Journal of Consumer Research paper, picture frames help us feel secure.

Among other revelations, the study indicates that the more we’re under pressure–from a sluggish economy, a rough job market, you name it–the more we feel the need for a secure environment to live in. This need for stability also offers a plausible explanation for why people are adding framed images to the walls of their homes. It also explains the longer-living teddy bears and the increase in condoms. Teddy bears provide comfort and a direct link back to the “good old days,” a time of rosy memories when we imagine everything was wholesome and good. And condoms? Psychologist Belisa Vranich offers a similar explanation: It’s all about feeling safe in a world that seems to be increasingly unstable. Here, safety means something different than it does when talking about teddy bears, but the mental security is just as real. Perhaps this is why condom sales have soared 16% over the past four years.

As you might imagine, I dread the day when I walk into a home and see a framed picture of a teddy bear holding a condom. I wouldn’t know where to begin my analysis of what that might mean.

Read More

Fast Company: The Chick-Fil-A Way: Why Brands Should Have Stronger Opinions

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – August 16, 2012

There’s more to that recent crispy controversy than you might think. Take a deep breath—and then take a public position.

Chick-fil-A, a Georgia-based fast food chain specializing in chicken sandwiches recently entered a highly exclusive, and not always savory, league of brands—that is, brands with opinions. It happened, as you may have heard, courtesy of COO Dan Cathy, the son of S. Truett Cathy, a devout Southern Baptist who began the company in 1961. The owners of Chick-fil-A had long been supporters of Christian family values, and active sponsors of organizations and conferences dedicated to preserving what some call the institution of marriage.

However, when Dan Cathy went on the radio speaking of “God’s judgment” raining down on those who “advocate same-sex marriage,” the heated (sizzling, crispy, etc.) debate that ensued raised Chick-fil-A’s profile on both a national and international level. While I firmly oppose the Cathy family’s views, as a branding man I can’t help but admire the (likely unintended) value of the misadventure. Up until a few weeks ago, I, for one, had never heard of Chick-fil-A. I’m sure I’m not alone.

It’s been a while since the glory days of brands with opinions. The once-famous liberal bent of Ben & Jerry’s has softened. Sure, we’ve seen attempts by the companies such as Diesel, who trumpeted fairly innocuous opinions, but the truth of the matter is the world of brands has become oh-so-Corporate, with a capital C. And when brands do wade into the choppy editorializing seas these days, the results are often sloppy—see also: Cole, Kenneth.

The past decade has, in fact, seen a systematic depletion of courage in business in the United States. Every major corporation has come to fear shareholder backlash. In this world of increased job insecurity, there’s an even greater fear of igniting the ire of an aggressive writer somewhere in the back lots of the blogosphere. Companies now shy away from igniting any storm that may lead to a lawsuit. The reality is that they’ve become petrified of causing any kind of conflict, and so they opt for the safer middle of the road.

But isn’t time ripe for a game change? It wasn’t that long ago when CNN was the leading global news channel, and then in 1986 FOX entered the arena. The world of news has never been the same since. Objective views have been replaced with subjective opinions. It seems we can’t get enough of it, and those leading the ratings race seldom allow facts to get in the way of a good story. We see this everywhere, from Howard Stern to The Simpsons to the endless number of subjective opinions pouring out of blogs on every single subject.

Then we have brands. Most are working overtime to be everything to everybody, and the only commitment they’re prepared to make is when they dare to share an opinion about one of their own. Think Coke Zero in preference to Coke, or Oracle’s latest $10 million offer to IBM to see if it can out-perform them. As for real opinions, the kind that shape our world and challenge our beliefs, well, they’re nowhere to be found.

As one who is quick with his opinion, I believe that you can’t be friends with everyone, and the day that you try, you are doomed. Of course there will always be exceptions, but these are mostly to be found in smaller companies with less to lose. And, yes, the bigger the company, the higher the risk, and the greater likelihood they’ll travel along tried and trusted paths. But what of the rest? Why are they choosing to stay in the middle of the road? Opinions are such that they can divide and unite at the same time, and perhaps for this very reason we are still talking about Pepsi Vs. Coke some 15 years after the ads aired.

The time has come to bring back opinionated brands. Ben & Jerry’s political positions were not manufactured in their marketing department or on their advertising agency’s drawing board. It was a real expression of values when they chose to rename their Chubby Hubby, Hubby Hubby in celebration of Vermont legalizing same-sex marriage. They even went so far to feature a cartoon image of two men marrying beneath a rainbow. Their choice in the 2008 presidential election was celebrated with the flavor Yes Pecan, echoing President Barack Obama’s ‘Yes, we can!’ slogan. Hell, the company founders were once even arrested outside the Sudanese Embassy after protesting the horrors happening in Darfur. Ben & Jerry’s is a rare brand, indeed. Though to a lesser extent, the company continued pursuing controversial issues even after it been taken over by Unilever, the multinational food corporation.

Today, brands should take a cue from rock stars, many of who are unafraid to speak out for causes they believe in. Lady Gaga has supported the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” Annie Lennox and Elton John began fighting for AIDS sufferers in the days when people were afraid to even whisper the word. Of course, corporate culture is vastly different from rock culture, but as the growing number of socially considerate businesses indicates, there is a place where politics and profits can happily mingle.

The choice of instant feedback channels seems to have scared CEOs into submission. Previously the worst that could happen was a bit of bad press and a few outraged letters dumped in the mailbox. These days, everyone can vent his or her indignation and rage on Twitter. This is precisely the problem. It’s the reason why negative opinions in the world of branding cut deeper than ever before. The consequences are immediate, and they hit with a forcefulness that can leave even the most resistant members of senior management feeling kneecapped.

We now live in a world led by Wow! Pow! Ciao! Our attention is captured by the immediate. Our reaction is passionate, and sometimes ferocious. And just as soon as we’ve let off steam, we give it away. In this new reality, senior management needs to become more mindful of the process and grow a thicker skin in order to share their opinion and stand for something in the world. There’s risk involved, to be sure, however there’s an even bigger risk involved in taking the middle road—not least of which is the heavy traffic already clogging the space.

[Image: Flickr user Elevert Barnes]

Read More

Fast Company: London 2012: Wow. Pow. Ciao

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – August 2, 2012

The London 2012 Olympics is up and running. The world is deep into the elation, the tears, and the cheers. Every media channel is jam-packed with stories of triumphs along the road.

But hold on a moment.

In 2007 a new London Games logo was presented to the public. It resisted the iconic imagery, opting instead for a geometric configuration that on close inspection revealed itself to be the numerals 2012. The public outcry came from every corner of Britain, where it was criticized as a national embarrassment. Within 24 hours of it being launched, 40,000 complaints were filed by the general public demanding it be scrapped. Some compared it to a deconstructed swastika, while others professed an animated version might trigger epileptic seizures. Iran added fuel to the debate when it contended the logo was racist. As they saw it, the four jagged numerals spelled “Zion,” a biblical term for Jerusalem.

At the time, London’s Olympic Committee stood firmly behind a logo that had cost £400,000 and been a year in the making. The chairman, Lord Coe, was adamant that the troubled design was all about “reaching out and engaging young people.” Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, weighed in, saying he believed it to be “an early indication of the dynamism, modernity and inclusiveness with which London 2012 will leave its Olympic mark.”

And then, without so much as another word, the logo slowly faded away. Sure, traces of it remain on the official homepage and a few other corporate-like places, but it’s mostly missing from the popular culture surrounding the games. What adorns everything Olympic in London right now consists of the five colorful rings accompanied by a serif text that reads quite simply “London 2012.” But most astounding thing of all is not that the questionable logo has taken a back seat, but that the millions glued to their televisions or digital screens don’t seem to have noticed its absence. I call it the “Wow, Pow, Ciao” phenomenon, a result of our media-saturated world.

  • Wow: We see something that offends us, we’re shocked and outraged, and then, all fired up.
  • Pow: We take to email, Twitter, Tumblr, and text to vent our horror and dismay to all and sundry, and then, almost as soon as it began…
  • Ciao: We’re on to something newer, more interesting, and perhaps even more controversial.

Admittedly, the logo was pretty ugly. But, in retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if the awfulness of it was worth the fuss. After all, how many of us can remember the Shanghai 2008 logo or, for that matter, Athens in 2004, or Sydney in 2000 (to say nothing of the hideous Olympic mascots)? I know I can’t. However, those of us of a certain age have no trouble remembering Coca-Cola’s rebranding fiasco that occurred in 1985. When the company reformulated their recipe in response to Pepsi taking over the lead marketing position, there was an enormous public backlash to the New Coke. Despite the fact that all market research showed people considered the new version tastier, the company was bombarded with over 400,000 calls and letters protesting the change. Wall Street declared the exercise a gigantic failure and Coca-Cola quickly reverted back to its classic formula. Now, 27 years later, Coke and Diet Coke hold the top two marketing positions, followed by Pepsi.

A similar fate happened to Kraft when they tampered with Vegemite, a dark brown spread used on toast in Australia. In the process of improving the brand, they changed the name from Vegemite to iSnack. Australians felt part of their national identity under threat, and spontaneously boycotted the renamed product. After just four days of iSnack hitting supermarket shelves Kraft succumbed to consumer pressure, and Vegemite was reintroduced to its adoring public generating record sales.

We’re now all part of an instant-gratification generation. As we happily take to Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook to air our grievances, a curious phenomenon is happening in tandem. Life apparently begins over again within the space of a few seconds–just like a goldfish. The French have a phrase for it. They call it succès de scandale. In the U.S. we call it: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Here today, gone tomorrow. In the twentieth century it was a term that was used with a fair amount of cynicism.

Today, the cynicism is all but absent, and no one seems to notice or even care. The wow is coming from the sporting action. People are tweeting about Ye Shiwen, the young teenage swimmer from China whose winning time in the women’s 400-meter medley outclassed the men. They’re bemoaning Michael Phelps’s disappointing performance and celebrating the wins. As for the misbegotten logo, well it’s bowed out without so much as an English goodbye.


Read More

Fast Company: For Brands, Being Cool Is As Hot As Sex

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – July 7, 2012

We all know why sex sells, but coolness? It’s mercurial, ethereal, and hard to measure. So why does everyone care so much about it?

The decision was made–and then made headlines across the globe.

In the U.K.’s high court, Judge Colin Birss presided over Apple’s fight with Samsung, in which Apple claimed Samsung’s Galaxy tablet was way too similar to its iPad. The judge disagreed. In his ruling he said that the Galaxy “does not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design.” And then came three little words that reflect one of the biggest, most powerful ideas in business. The Judge declared that the Galaxy is “not as cool” as the iPad.

Now Apple is a brand that’s been considered cool from the moment the first Macintosh was introduced in 1984. Cool is something every technology brand in the world aspires to be. BlackBerry and Nokia would pay millions to be associated with the trait, if only they could. So would shoe makers, car manufacturers, clothing labels, and probably every celebrity on the planet. Cool is–and has been for some time–the hottest word in branding, and every brand wants a piece of it.

Cool is also mercurial, ethereal, and hard to measure. That hasn’t stopped a group of psychologists from conducting a three-part research study investigating the essence of coolness. The results of their investigation were surprising. But first, let’s take a step back in time.

Values, which serve as a kind of architectural framework, underpin a brand. This keeps the brand solid and consistent. In other words, a brand is a little like a person you form a trusting relationship with; you rely on it to perform.

In their search to be cool, brands often aspire to align their values with well-known personalities. In the 1990s, Madonna was all the rage (really, check out this vid for a few reasons why). “We want to stand for what she stands for,” were the words on the lips of every marketing executive I spoke with. Back then, she was less preoccupied with staying young, and more focused on making interesting dance music and compelling, sexy videos. She was cool.

During the first part of this century, the notion of cool shifted to people like Richard Branson. His entrepreneurial spirit and, well, cool, was highly appealing to a new generation of marketing professionals. They wanted what he had, and brands were subsequently steered in similar directions as Branson’s Virgin group.  Cool brands manage the delicate balance of being well-defined entities, as well as being highly desirable. Often this comes from a close association with a single word: think “search,” and you think “Google”; or “safety” and “Volvo” pops to mind; “cowboy” conjures “Marlboro.”

So what is the essence of cool? Just last week the Journal of Individual Differences published the results of a study led by Ilan Dar-Nimrod, a psychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. The researchers set out to define coolness beyond a general understanding of what’s nice, likable and popular. For the study 353 volunteers were asked to submit adjectives they associated with coolness. Surprisingly, the word “friendly” topped the list, followed by “personal competence.”  This ranking positioned socially skilled, popular, smart, and talented people as being the ultimate in cool; individualist hipsters featured lower on the list. Bar-Ilan concluded: “Coolness has lost so much of its historical origins and meaning.” That is: rebels are not hot. Or cool.

Another attribute figured prominently in this recent study: physical attractiveness. The prominence of “good looks” in the study echoes the results of work I carried out for my most recent book, Brandwashed. During my $3 million study into the way word-of-mouth works, I asked a family of five to secretly promote brands to a cadre of their friends, family members and colleagues. During this experiment, I learned that the key to the family’s success was neither their extensive network, nor their gift of the gab; it was their good looks.

A slew of books published in the last year attest to this.  Daniel Hamermesh describes why attractive people are more successful in Beauty Pays, whereas Deborah Rhodes’s The Beauty Bias argues for a legal basis to prohibit discrimination against those who are not gifted in the looks department.

A while back, the BBC made a television documentary about the importance appearance plays in our lives. One of Britain’s top models was made to appear frumpy for a day. She was then tasked with a variety of roles–to look for a job, to approach people on the street for directions, and to randomly offer help to others. At the end of the day, she was asked to assess how important her looks were in achieving what she’d achieved. Without hesitating, she answered: “Everything.” She was flabbergasted to find just how unhelpful people were during her day as an average-looking person.

So here’s a wild hypotheses: If looks go a long way to defining a cool human being, how does this relate to brands? Apple has sleek lines and stylish displays, but does the brand have a sense of humor?  Is it sociable? Well, yes. Just look at those winning ads where the uncool guy took on the role of a PC, and the fun, socially engaging and handsome guy was a Mac. Which brand would you prefer to be?

Can this revised formula for coolness be adapted to every brand and category? Perhaps. As with everything, I’m sure there are exceptions, but it is an intriguing thought. As brands become increasingly sophisticated in their strategies to capture the hearts and minds of consumers, so more sophisticated means of identifying, defining and locking in the perfect set of values is required. Of course it’s one thing to theoretically label your product or store cool, in the hope that the consumer will concur; it’s quite another to achieve it. But with good looks, a dose of humor, and a splash of social awareness, you may yet realize the dream.

[Photo illustration by Joel Arbaje]


Read More

Fast Company: How Many Lives Does A Brand Have?

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – July 3, 2012

It’s said that cats have nine lives, but how many lives does a brand have? The answer, it seems, is definitely more than one.

Recently, in Shanghai, a friend took me to one of the city’s most sophisticated luxury malls. She was excited to show me her recent discovery. “Check this brand out,” she said, pointing to a meticulously tailored Aquascutum trench coat. Its label said the brand was founded in 1851, but I had to confess, I’d never heard of it. “And, how cool are these?” she asked as she riffled through a rack of striped Kent & Curwen T-shirts. Kent & Curwen? I wasn’t sure what that was, but Kent & Curwen is another prestigious English brand founded in Surrey in 1926. Here in Shanghai, the capital of new brands, I fell in love with Gieves & Hawkes, another English brand dating back to… 1771!

The irony of the situation blew me away. After all, I’m a man who creates brands, and yet in this salubrious mall in Shanghai I was surrounded by a host of them that have been around for at least a century, and I’d never so much as heard of a single one of them.

I scribbled down the names down and immediately began to investigate.

Almost all these “classic” brands fell out of favor many years ago, often being reduced to a single retail outlet. Yet in a country like China, where heritage, authenticity, and many things European are highly desirable, their obscurity didn’t matter. The simple fact that they were all founded in Europe in another historical time was enough for the brand-obsessed citizens to dig deep into their wallets, and spend big.

But will the brand-obsessed Chinese continue to fall in love with anything and everything Western, or is this the beginning of a new brand paradigm shift, a serious turnaround?

I spend around 25% of my time with brand owners and government officials in China and its surrounding regions, and it has become increasingly apparent that the rules of branding are set to change. I can’t help but think there’s a chance (however slim) that Chinese brands will take a similar route to the one Japanese brands took in the 1980s. There was a time–predominantly in the 1960s and 1970s–when all kinds of cheap things were made in Japan. However in the 1980s, the government backed a strategic plan to reverse this image, and within a decade cars, electronic goods and pharmaceuticals with a “Made in Japan” stamp came to symbolize innovation and value for money.

It was not some fortuitous accident. The Japanese conscientiously imitated big-ticket consumer goods in the West and improved on them. They changed their more difficult-to-pronounce names, and succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings. This could be the very model that Chinese brands seek to emulate. Certainly China is on a mission to convert their ubiquitous “Made in China” labels that are commonly associated with everything plastic, little fantastic and not much other than low prices to recommend them. They’re in search of quality.

A hunt for Western brands to acquire has begun in earnest, and Chinese companies now own some of the West’s most iconic brands. In 2004, IBM sold their PC brand Thinkpad to Lenovo for $1.25 billion. In 2004, General Motors’ sold the Hummer brand to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company. In 2005, Nanjing Automative took over MG Rover, and in 2010, Zhejiang Geely Holding acquired Volvo Cars from Ford. Just this year, two separate Chinese companies ventured into the luxury yacht business when the Wantong group bought Dalla Pieta, and Shandong Heavy Industry Group bought Ferretti.

It’s just a matter of time before you will see many of the brands which are currently changing hands produce products and services you’d never associated with them before. When more than 50 copycat Apple stores were discovered last year, the well-loved logo adorned washing machines, vacuum cleaners and a range of clothing. All products, I might add, were designed to maintain the stylish look that has endeared so many consumers to the Apple brand. As a senior executive from one of the larger car companies in China explained over dinner, “We don’t know a lot about brands yet, so for the time being we’re forced to acquire known companies. Once we get it, I’m sure this trend will stop.”

Behind the scenes, a systematic knowledge transfer is taking place. As each brand expert is called in to consult, so there’s a Chinese executive learning whatever there is to be learned. It’s somewhat complicated by the fact that the desire for a specific brand is neither tangible nor quantifiable. In the meantime, new brands are being carefully crafted and targeted at mainland China. After all, there are a billion or so homeland customers to cater for first. Call it the learning phase. That, however, does not mean we will not be seeing Chinese brands any time soon. We certainly will, but they won’t be anything we expect.

I asked a Chinese client who manufactures one of the largest clothing lines in the country when he thought it would be a good time for the company to adopt an international name. After all, very few people outside of China would be able to read, let alone pronounce the name. He looked at me, and with all seriousness replied, “It’s time for the Westerners to learn some Chinese.” His is not an isolated attitude; rather it’s a widely held sentiment amongst Chinese senior management. Furthermore, the Chinese business elite prefer to run everything themselves granting only limited input and token ownership to Western companies. They’ll retain their brand-building principles, but that’s about it.

So don’t be surprised if sometime soon you come across brands that you cannot decipher, called names you cannot pronounce. You might just come to learn about them because they’ll be prominent, cheap, and appealing enough for you to buy, despite the obstacles. In the same way that China has spent decades selling cheap non-branded labour to the world, when they decide to focus on creating strong international brands, it will undoubtedly be done the Chinese way. When it happens, it will be happening on their terms, regardless of whether you want it or not.

[Photo mashup by: Joel Arbaje]

Read More

Fast Company: How To Know When To Take A Madcap Career Chance

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed– June 20, 2012

According to an old Chinese proverb, we’re given three chances to succeed in life. If we use them wisely, we get another three. If not, I’m afraid that’s it. There will be no more.

It’s True: What’s Past Is Prologue

Way back in 1994, on a plane home from giving a talk in Montreal, Canada, the person sitting beside me began chatting about a country I’d never visited–Australia. It was somewhat strange in light of the fact that only just earlier in the day a middle-aged Australian man had approached me, asking if I could give his advertising agency advice on how to crack this new thing called the “world wide web.” Bear in mind that this was 1994, the year Netscape was invented, the very year the Internet as we know it today was born. It was one of those inexplicable synchronicities: two different people from a faraway country approaching me in the same afternoon.

I hadn’t been back in Denmark much longer than a few days when I received a call from the Australian adman. He said he happened to be in Copenhagen and would like to stop by my office for a chat, if that was okay with me. When he arrived he explained that the concept of the world wide web was still preoccupying him. “Martin,” he said, “how do you reckon we should handle this Internet thing at the agency?”

I found the serendipity of the situation hard to resist. I gave it a moment, took out a pen and scribbled a few lines on a napkin: “I hereby employ Martin Lindstrom to oversee all WWW activity for my agency. Signed, Glenn Williams.” I passed the napkin Glenn’s way. He took one look at it and said, “What a splendid idea!” And to my surprise, he signed it. The deal was done, and within a few weeks I was on a flight bound for Australia. My mission was to start up the online arm of BBDO in Asia and Australia.

Identifying Opportunities

As I emptied my desk ready for my new venture down under, a colleague asked, “How do all these interesting opportunities come your way? What do you do?” I didn’t know what to answer then, but I do now. Not only have I always had an eye open to adventure and opportunity, but I have always had a tendency to seize them the moment they occur. Herein lies the problem for many. Too few of us see the opportunities that are presented to us. Even fewer of us dare to meet them head on and run with them.

The interesting thing that I’ve learned over the years is, true to that old Chinese proverb, the more opportunities we act on, the more we get.  And that’s not all–the behavioral researcher and writer Paco Underhill, a good friend, recently asked me about the last time I applied myself to learning something completely new. I was surprised to realize 15 years had passed since I’d left college. It seems that we all too quickly fall into the comfort of our routines, and these, in turn, allow us to settle into comfort zones where very little that is new enters our personal sphere.

Not unlike some of the most innovative industries of our time that have got into a groove and rested on their laurels, we too get comfortable. Very few of us dedicate time and resources to evolve and educate ourselves. Even fewer set the bar higher to challenge ourselves beyond our area of comfort, and as another popular affirmation instructs: Life only begins at the end of the comfort zone.

How To Act Now–And Learn New Stuff

I fundamentally believe we should have at least three different bank accounts (if we can afford them). The first account is to pay the bills, put food on the table and a roof over our head. The second should be used for personal branding. In other words, to invest in your image and create a presence in your environment. This could be a website, a blog, or a personal vision and how you want to own it.  The final account should be dedicated to the sole purpose of evolving, educating and expanding your knowledge, insights and talent.

The more we’re preoccupied in our daily routines, the less time we spend learning new stuff. Even if it involves just taking the time to learn the finer details of the computer software you use every day. But that would only be a start.  I’m really imagining bigger and better than that.

I guess writing books for me is kind of my personal R&D budget. Quite some time ago, it dawned on me that I haven’t even begun investigating some of the crazy theories that swirl around my brain. Today, my R&D budget is all about that: conducting experiments and embarking on projects that may very well be plain crazy. Ideas, for example, like investigating health warnings on cigarette packs. How effective are they, or do they have the opposite effect of what’s intended, encouraging us to smoke more? After a $7 million study, I discovered that these warnings do indeed encourage more smoking. Another study revealed that the most powerful sound known to humans is the sound of a baby laughing.

Honestly, none of these hypotheses had much to do with my core business, and yet what I learned has become an essential part of what I do today. When I noticed how smokers looked at health warnings on cigarette packs before lighting up, I took a chance and decided to investigate this counter-intuitive notion. Had I not explored my simple observation further, my book Buyology wouldn’t exist.

The Future Is Unwritten

As we get older, we become more fearful of change. We are anxious about losing everything we’ve worked for. And yet the paradox of this is that we often lose it all when we do nothing. However, if we grab those (sometimes madcap) opportunities that come our way, the rewards are immense. Why don’t you try it?  The worst that can happen is you’ll be given another three opportunities. Not a bad payoff, if you ask me.

[Image: Olly via Shutterstock]


Read More

Fast Company: Confessions Of A Brand Man

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – June 14, 2012

What bottles of rare, 170-year-old champagne, rescued from a shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, tell us about the power of a brand’s story. And what we are willing to believe about why we want what we want.

What occurred in Finland last Friday was the culmination of a year’s intensive preparation involving 193 tons of the most advanced deep-sea recovery equipment. This much was certain: Christian Ekstrom, an amateur diver based in the remote Åland Islands, had no idea of what he had unearthed during a fairly routine dive he made during the summer of 2010. Who, after all, could possibly imagine that his find would result in one of the biggest branding exercises ever–or at least ever to take place in France?

When Ekstrom innocently slipped into the cold waters of the Baltic Sea in July of 2010 to explore a shipwreck 150 feet below the surface, he made an unusual discovery. It wasn’t a pristine Stradivarius, a Russian submarine, or trunks full of gold sovereigns and lost gemstones. No, what he found were 162 bottles of champagne. The ship most likely sank during a turbulent storm sometime between 1825 and 1830, and the champagne in the hold came from three distinguished houses: Heidsieck & Co., Veuve Clicquot, and the now-defunct Juglar.

Had the discovery been run-of-the-mill house wines, we would of course have heard very little about it. Yet the mystique of this effervescent liquid, traditionally produced with a blend of three particular grape types, grown in specific fields in the Champagne region in northeast France, excited every sommelier who has made the science of sparkling wine their life’s work–and, for that matter, anyone who appreciates a good yarn. Some sommeliers even assisted in recovering the bottles, carefully replacing the rope originally used to fix the corks, with metal, and then slowly raising them to the surface. Many were broken, and some had been contaminated, but of the 162 bottles, 79 were drinkable–perfectly stored in the icy, dark waters in which they lay.

Last week at an auction in Marlehamn, Finland, 11 bottles of 170-year-old champagne went on sale. Together, the champagne sold for an astounding $156,000, roughly $14,000 a bottle. The day after the auction I attended a birthday party at Veuve Clicquot’s headquarters in Reims, a city in the Champagne region of France. As luck would have it, at one point I found myself gazing upon one of these vintage bottles, a gift to Veuve Clicquot from government officials in the Åland Islands.

There I stood, a brand man who makes a living telling a good story to create the ultimate in illusion about commercial products, almost hypnotically drawn to this world of exclusive champagne. I felt the strong pull of needing to possess everything so stylishly displayed in the Veuve Clicquot showroom. I wanted the key rings, the notepads, the Rosé Fridge, and even the iPhone cover (even though I don’t use an iPhone).

The story hit home–and hard. Despite the fact that I’d spent a few hours earlier seeing the simplicity of champagne’s manufacturing methods, I’d been completely sucked in. I don’t want to diminish the importance of blend, bottle, soil and fruit, but the ingredients in a good bottle of champagne are not that complex–grapes, yeast, and a few twists of rock sugar.

Some years ago a team of sommeliers were asked to evaluate the quality of three different bottles of wine. Each bottle had a different price point–expensive, middling, and cheap. The sommeliers were hooked up to electrodes that scanned their brains as they carefully tasted each one. The results of the fMRI confirmed that the most expensive wine did indeed taste better. In contrast, the cheap wine registered a withdrawal response in the taste region of the sommeliers’ brains. Based on this result, one could be forgiven for believing that good wine justifiably costs more. Only there was a catch. The three bottles contained exactly the same wine. The sommeliers were just not aware of it.

If the tale of the Emperor’s new clothes was given a 21st century twist, it could easily be named The Emperor’s New Wine. Forget about Disney, Gucci or even our beloved Apple, there’s an industry out there that’s miles ahead of the marketing pack–the champagne industry, and it’s been going strong for about 500 years.

As my tour of the Champagne region came to an end, the last stop on the program was a small, unknown house located 13 miles from Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin in Reims. I entered through a simple grey cellar door with little grandeur in sight. The storage area doubled as a showroom. Bottles of bubbly were the only merchandise. Fairly illegible hand-written sheets on a table offered the house champagne for a remarkable €14.95 a bottle–a 300% discount over any bottle selling at the more prestigious champagne houses.

With less than an hour between two visits, something strange had occurred. The visitors’ knowing smiles and deep sighs that accompanied the tastings at Veuve Clicquot were absent. Even when the winemaker’s trophy was displayed alongside his prestige vintage, everyone seemed to have a foot out the door. They unanimously agreed that the quality was simply not there, a conclusion they’d reached before the last glass had been filled with the finest drops of the house.

One can’t help but wonder if this was a fair judgment. Or had we all just been captivated by grand stories, golden yellow labels, treasures from a shipwreck, a cork seal and bubbles that turned sparkling wine into champagne? Had we been seduced by the brand’s story rather than what was inside the bottle? No one will ever know.  But as I made my way out of the winegrower’s house, I came across a small boy. He first glanced at my elegantly wrapped Veuve Clicquot box, along with its heavily branded ice cooler, and then he simply looked directly at me. I imagined he was thinking, “Wow, I love that brand.” But then again, he could just as easily have been thinking, “Were you really that stupid?”  And I suppose, perhaps, we were.

Read More

Fast Company: iPhone-Addicted Lego Lover Seeks Same For Fun, Romance, Brand Worship

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – May 30, 2012

If branders and marketers have their way, that’s how the personals of the near future will read.

It was a balmy summer day in July when Joe Sparano and his girlfriend Kristin Kaceric planned a picnic to celebrate the anniversary of their meeting. The couple met while working at a toy store, and as Joe describes it, they bonded over their shared love of LEGO.

But above and beyond the anniversary, something very special was about to happen. For six months Joe had been secretly working on three separate projects, which he planned to unveil at the picnic. The day came, and as they sat on their blanket sipping their favorite wine, Kristin unwrapped the gifts: The first was Building Set #7181, Joe called it “Kristin and Joe;” The second, #7182, “Our Favourite Things;” and the third, the piece-de-resistance, #7183, “Engagement Picnic.”

As Joe tells it, “Kristin gasped in surprise as soon as she unwrapped the last set. At that moment, I proposed with the LEGO ring, and she said yes!”

The very essence of what the LEGO brand stands for had initially brought Joe and Kristin together, and it was their shared passion for what they could create with colored plastic bricks that formed a bond that led to marriage.

A nice story, you might say, but is there more to it than this? Did the brand play a role in helping Joe and Kristin clarify their personal values? Did their shared love of the product help them realize that they had a common view of life? Or did LEGO merely fuel a common interest, which helped a young couple avoid awkward silences?

For insight into these questions, consider Cupidtino. It’s a dating website with a difference. The name is an amalgamation of Cupid (the god of love) and Cupertino (the California town where Apple, the god of tech, has its headquarters). On the opening page of their site, Cupidtino explains its raison d’être: “Diehard Mac & Apple fans often have a lot in common – personalities, creative, professions, a similar sense of style and aesthetics, taste, and a love for technology.” They boldly assert, “We believe these are enough fundamental reasons for two people to meet and fall in love.”  They may very well be on to something.

Brands are currently expanding their roles into every aspect of our lives–Armani is now in the hotel business, and Hello Kitty has its name on everything from vibrators to condoms to handbags to tooth caps. Brands have created perfectly defined universes with values and purpose, so much so that they’re not only influencing what we buy, but are also making inroads into how we behave.

A few years back, the results of a study conducted to determine if brand exposure motivates behavior was published in the Journal of Consumer Research. The researchers determined that when primed with the Apple logo, respondents did indeed think different, and became more creative than when exposed to the IBM logo. Similarly, in a paper published by Psychological Science, Zhong and DeVoe flashed fast-food images in front of one group of participants. The second group was exposed to neutral images. The fast-food group were spurred on, reading a 320-word passage a full 15 seconds faster than the neutral group.

Could it be that the brands that surround us will soon represent more than just a way to navigate through the clutter of endless commercial offers, and will serve as a statement of who we are, who our friends are, and as in the case of LEGO and Cupidtino, who we’ll romantically connect with?

I interviewed 30 Hello Kitty fans for my latest book Brandwashed. What I learned was that most of the girls (each one the proud owner of more than 500 pieces of Hello Kitty merchandise) had one thing in common: they received their first Hello Kitty piece from their father when they were around six years old. Those that had boyfriends all revealed their Hello Kitty passion at the outset of the relationship, because if it came down to the boy or the brand, well, the brand came first.

It will not be surprising to see the tone of profiles on dating websites changing. The walking-on-the-beach-at-sunset clichés may soon be replaced with “Addicted to my iPhone,” or “Must be an Angry Birds devotee,” and perhaps even “Can’t life without Tide Ultra” might come out in the wash.  Pastimes or sports interests could be “Playing Wave Race on my Wii 2, wanna race?” Maybe the point of rendezvous will set the tone for the meeting.  “Prefer Double Whoppers to Big Macs, so meet you at Burger King”

This is not just pie-in-the-sky stuff. Just look at romantic aspirations detailed on any dating website. It’s a fact that with just six 8-stud LEGO bricks you can build over 102 million combinations, so imagine what awaits you in a world of around 25 million brands. If each brand represents its own spectrum of values, dreams, aspirations and desires, there are enough possibilities and combinations to find at least a billion connections.  It might just come to pass that the collection of brands we have in our home will lead us to people who share the same brand combinations. As the future stretches ahead, we might very well find that it is brands that are instrumental in connecting us to others in the most profound ways.

[Image mashup by: Joel Arbaje]


Read More

Fast Company: How To Identify Your Customers, Make Them Love You, And Keep Them Hooked

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – May 23, 2012

Every company is struggling to nail down their core target group. If only they could define it, life–or at least business–would be a whole lot easier. They could then channel resources and focus energy in the right direction. But a target group consists of many disparate elements. Take, for example, McDonald’s. Who would they would call their primary target group? After all, they serve 47 million customers each and every day. And what about Apple? Their 362 stores had more traffic in three months than four Disney theme parks had in an entire year. Then there’s Nike, and Facebook, and… I think you get my point. You could be forgiven for thinking the target group is simply everyone. But that’s not true.

Clever brands know the truth. McDonald’s primary target group are families–not teenagers, and definitely not everyone. And Apple? Well, long before the brand was embraced by the mainstream, you could only expect to find their equipment on the desks of designers, generally those who valued better font and color support. Nike catered to athletes, both professional and semi-professional, and Facebook was begun by students, for students, in the halls of Harvard.

A target group is as much about focus as it is about knowing what to rule out. Brands have a tendency to try to please everyone and their dog. Senior management is blinded by the lure of potential revenue that they believe will come from appealing to the masses. This is a mistake. In reality, the more narrow the focus, the more concisely the aspirational target group is defined, the broader it becomes. It’s one of branding’s strange paradoxes.

Almost every successful brand that’s gained traction, has either consciously, or perhaps coincidentally, operated with two target groups in mind. The first, the primary target group, is the aspirational group, who I refer to as “magnets.” They’re the ones attracting others to wherever they are. The second group I call “takers,” and they’re the ones being attracted. The important revenue stream comes from the takers, but with no magnets, there will be no takers.

Let’s define the terms more vividly. Say you drive past the newest, most happening nightclub in town. On any given evening you will see a line of people outside, all patiently waiting to be let in. You would naturally assume from this that the venue is packed. Those you see in the line are the takers. Surprisingly, if you look more closely at the venue, you’ll see that it’s not that full. There are, however, a number of groups sitting around tables, talking, drinking, tapping their toes, and swaying to the beat. These are the magnets–or at least that’s what the nightclub would have us believe.

Talking not long ago with a high-rolling nightclub operator in New York City provided me with a keener insight into this idea. He explained that it’s a fine balance between magnets and takers that creates the right kind of buzz. Celebrities aside, clubs have other criteria by which they measure social cachet. There’s gender, height, personal networks, fashion, hairstyle, and even followers. The people on the door carefully control the particular milieu that the club aspires to. They are well schooled in the art of knowing who to admit, or not admit. These gatekeepers are offered significant bonuses to get the mix right. Too many magnets with not enough takers means too many complimentary drinks and not enough purchases. Too many takers, and the nightclub loses its allure, and the stream of guests being drawn in will have moved on to the next hot venue.

Obviously the ins and outs of this are more complex. Companies of the future will not only work with magnets and takers; they’ll also have to operate with two distinct deadlines: official and unofficial. The first time I became aware of the importance of operating with two different campaign release dates was when I was working with the Morgensons family as part of a $3 million research study for my latest book Brandwashed. The experiment was inspired by the Hollywood movie The Joneses, in which a fake family was tasked with promoting products to friends and neighbors. We decided to create an identical scenario, with one important difference–this time it was for real.

One of the key learnings that emerged from this experiment was the notion that a product needs to be “seeded” into the market long before the official release date. This allows magnets to spread the word and generate the hype, before the takers, well, take over. The experiment taught us that such seeding seems to create the momentum needed before the official release. We learned that seeding should often take place several months–typically nine–before the official release.

Since social media has become a key ingredient in every marketing campaign, the importance of including aspirational target groups in every new brand release is likely to become the norm. The fact is that in future, no brand will be able to successfully operate with only one target group. Instead, there must be a conscious division of target groups into magnets and takers, in order to be strategically viable. This will encourage a new discipline among senior management–they will be forced to learn patience. Every executive expects (or should I say, hopes) that on the day their new brand is released, there’ll be thousands of customers waiting outside the doors, desperate to buy their product. A bit like what goes on at the Apple stores. Behind the scenes, brands will be carefully crafting a two-tier release plan many months ahead of the official release.

The question is just how willing you are to bring patience into your marketing plan. And will you be able to say “No”? Because rather than jumping into bed with the market on the very first day, the longevity of your relationship with consumers might very well depend on denying them at least for a while.  If you don’t believe me, skip the long line of young funky fashionistas, and head to the easy-to-access club around the corner. The drinks will certainly be cheaper, but is that really what you want?

[Image: Flickr user Micah Sittig]


Read More

Fast Company: Why You (Yes, You!) Are The Future Of Branding

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – May 16, 2012

New research shows just how much we love to talk about ourselves. Twitter and Facebook have built massive platforms on this premise. How long before many other brands grab a piece of our action?

You run through the latest collection of your party photos, psyched to share the best ones with a few good friends. You email them and post them on Instagram and Facebook. Then you realize what everyone will really be looking at in the pics. Hint: It’s not you, it’s them. The first thing they’re scanning for is to make sure they look good. They then look at the people surrounding themselves in the image. In this case they’re not nearly as interested in how good-looking the people are, they’re more concerned about how popular they themselves appear, and that they’re being seen with the “right people.”

Over the past year, I’ve used eye-tracking technology to study exactly how obsessed we are with ourselves. What I’ve found is that, more than ever, we’re hardwired to be this way–regardless of culture, age, or gender. This goes a ways toward explaining the latest craze sweeping Japan. It’s not a new gadget, or more exotic sushi. No, it’s something as traditional as a postage stamp. As part of a recent incentive to encourage the Japanese to send letters, Japan Post issued a series of stamps with an entirely new format. These stamps were not emblazoned with royal profiles, historical personas, striking flowers, or rare birds; rather, they offered the opportunity for the consumer to place their own face on the letter.

How did we get here?

One need look no further than Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to get a sense of how willing people are to reveal all–to say nothing of the countless throngs of bloggers still clogging your RSS feeds. But surely this goes beyong mere narcissism, which every one agrees is a powerful force. Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir, along with her colleague Jason Mitchell, set out to study why we are essentially motivated toward self-disclosure and, well, bragging.

The researchers recently set up a series of laboratory tests to find out what value people placed on various opportunities for self-disclosure. Using fMRI, they tracked the brain flows of the respondents, to see what parts of their brain were activated when they answered serious questions about their inspirations and beliefs, as well as casual questions about pizza preferences, say, or what sports they like to watch. The scientists offered money as an incentive for the subjects to answer certain questions that nothing to do with themselves. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Tamir said, “We joked that this was the penny for your thoughts study.”

And yet, despite the financial incentive, the subjects were willing to relinquish between 17-25% of their potential earnings, in order to reveal information about themselves. What Tamir and Mitchell found was that when people speak about themselves, there is heightened activity in the region of the brain belonging to the meso-limbic dopamine system. This is the area interested in reward and satisfaction, often associated with food, money, and sex.

If you are suddenly smelling a market opportunity, rest assured that you are not alone. So what might this pleasure of self-disclosure mean for the future of brands? For starters I predict we’ll begin to see unusual brand alliances. It’s likely corporate brands will offer consumers a “soapbox” from which individuals can pimp their own identity. Indeed Best Buy has of late been doing just this by featuring tech innovators as the faces of the products the chain sells–check out Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, the guys behind Words With Friends, and other creators in this clip.

The Japanese have also already grasped this notion. In fact I noticed this trend emerging a few years ago when Japan’s largest noodle manufacturer encouraged chefs from local eateries to feature their portraits on mass-market noodles produced in small quantities, and only sold in the local restaurant and the surrounding retail outlets. Pretty impressive, when you think about it. On the one hand, the noodle company is leveraging their big-muscle brand power, while at the same time they’re tapping into the brand equity of the local chef who is known and respected in the neighborhood. I suspected then that this form of individual branding was merely the beginning.

On my most recent visit to Asia, I was invited to view one of the largest plastic molding facilities in China. They wanted to showcase an amazing new technology. Using an ordinary camera, the company demonstrated how they could capture a photo and convert it into a 3-D figure, in two short minutes. But that’s not all. There were hundreds of images at the ready. I could, for example, select Homer Simpson’s impressive midriff, and put a photo of my face on top of it. For good measure, I could add a pair of Mickey Mouse’s ears. The quality was as impressive as the versatility it offered. Oh, and it could all be done for the grand sum of $2.

As technology improves and the cost of production decreases, personal branding will no longer be in the domain of an elite few. Soon every Smith, Singh, and Lee will become his or her own brand on anything and everything, everywhere. Printing centers have been offering this feature for years–we’re all well familiar with the local plumbers’ fridge magnets–but there’s a new generation of merchandising making its way to you, and it promises to make you the center of the universe. It won’t be long before brands are forced to create alliances with each and every one of their customers. You might want to clear your calendar.

[Images: Home page, Flickr user 1000heads; Top, Flickr user Ellen Munro]

Read More

TIME Magazine – “Living in the Moment”: The Latest Marketing Meme

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – April 2, 2012

It’s a message that makes us feel strangely optimistic and important. It also gets us to buy stuff.

I recently found myself eavesdropping on a conversation at a cafe between two men in their twenties. “I want to try live more in the moment,” one of them said. “In fact, I’m going to have to put some serious effort into this notion, because I tend to focus on the future and, in the process, I neglect the present.” His friend, nodding away, seemed in perfect agreement. It was eerily similar to other conversations I’d heard, and had, in the last year. This feeling of neglecting the present is a real phenomenon.

As the tentacles of technology continue to encroach further into our personal space, people are only ever semi-present. Think of the last time you ate dinner with friends. How many cell phones were taken out at the gathering? How many texts were received and sent? How many times did a phone ring? How often did your companions check for emails? There was a time when I’d enjoy a quiet moment sitting in a restaurant, surveying the scene, as I waited for my dinner date to arrive. Now, feelings of self-consciousness overcome me. I feel conspicuous and a bit of a loser with no real connection. As a result, I too reach for my smart phone. And that still moment between arrival and reconnecting with a friend has become a thing of the past.

The erosion of the present is a real phenomenon. And it gets compounded when news events, like the death of Steve Jobs or Whitney Houston, remind you of the fragility and transience of life and force you to question whether you are, in fact, making the most of every moment. But this anxiety is also something that’s increasingly being used by marketers to sell products. In a recent advertisement for Honda, Matthew Broderick tells us,  “Sometimes you have to live a little … Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!” Another car ad, for Citroen’s latest DS3 model, has Marilyn Monroe questioning people’s taste for nostalgia and their desire to live in the past. Her advice is as direct as it is breathy. She says, “If I had one thing to say, it would be: live your life now!” Of course, Citroen will help show you the way.

This message makes us feel strangely optimistic, important even. Time’s a wasting, you only live once, and you have agency to push back against the frantic busyness of today’s world. But there may also be another dynamic at work. In 2005, Scott D. Swain and Lisa J. Abendroth of Boston University and Richard Hanna of Boston College discovered by studying consumers and advertising campaigns that creating a sense of “urgency” actually increases purchases.

One of Hollywood’s more successful producers recently informed me that ‘living in the moment’ has replaced Hollywood’s previous favorite aphorism, ‘You can make it happen.’ This supposedly fashionable notion is well over 2,500 years old. After all, it was the Buddha who famously taught, “Do not dwell in the past. Do not dream of the future. Concentrate the mind on the present moment.” I guess it is just a matter of time before some brand adapts the line as part of a larger marketing scheme.

Read More

Fast Company: How I Busted Out of My Addictive Technology Loop

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – May 8, 2012

As with all addictions, our intense fascination with life-changing tech must be managed. I found this out the hard way–when my rental car met the parking garage wall.

Recently I was sitting around the boardroom table of a major security company in Tel Aviv, when I noticed something quite unusual. There was black duct tape covering the camera lenses of every laptop and tablet in the room. The small microphone outlets were taped over as well. I was curious, and asked the head of security why this was the case. He explained that one could not be too cautious. He went on to say that, without exception, all electronic devices could be hacked into.

The irony was not lost on me. After all, this is a firm with the finest security-minded experts in the world on their payroll, and they’re making it company policy for employees to cover cameras and microphones with duck tape! I couldn’t help but feel it was all a bit paranoid as I left their office and headed for my rental car down the street.

I got into the car, put the digital key in the lock, and… nothing. The car was totally dead. Then my cell phone rang, and it was the head of security. In a teasing voice he told me I shouldn’t be surprised to find my car would not start. They had, after all, just hacked it.

Now, I’ve heard about hacking computers, cell phones, and even networks as secure as the U.S. military, but hacking a car? Clearly, the head of security was making a point. I hung up the phone, turned the key, and immediately the car’s engine sprang to life. Point taken.

According to Dave Evans, the chief futurist at Cisco, by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices online, and these will include gadgets that don’t yet exist–for example, intelligent fridges that can detect when the milk is turning. Those paid to know about such things are predicting ridiculously low costs for access to such technology, like 1 cent to connect a device online.

In 1999, Kevin Ashton first used the phrase “Internet of things” to describe his vision of connecting the physical world to the online world. He was subsequently instrumental in inventing RFID (radio frequency identification), a system that connects the physical world to the Internet via micro sensors. These sensors already track barcodes and price tags, but will soon be everywhere else. There’s the promise that they will take over all the trivial routines that burden us on a daily basis, for example regulating heating, adjusting water temperature, and even tracking lost items. Think how much time you could save if you never lost your car keys.

More than ever, this Internet of things reflects the way technology is working to make our lives easier, safer, and more enjoyable. But is it really? In some ways, yes: Electronic devices tell us how to reverse our cars, Siri is there to help with questions big and small, and Google intuits what we are really looking for when we’re not quite sure of the spelling.

What’s not to love? I certainly did love it all, until it started going wrong, and it had nothing to do with that Israeli security firm. When I finally got my car started that day, see, I promptly reversed into the wall of the car park. My brain was in automatic mode and my own car was too old to have warning beeps. The very next day I lost the bag that had my phone in it at the airport. When I wanted to call a good friend for some moral support, I had forgotten his phone number. I was frazzled–in part because up until then I was rather unaware of how dependent I’d become on this network of stuff.

If you puff on a cigarette, we all know, you’re playing a dangerous game of dice with a potentially lifelong addiction. But what we’re confronting now is a new version of addiction, and we’re all susceptible to certain side effects.

Several studies show our ability to recall data, phone numbers, names, or just plain old facts are slowly diminishing. Dr. Betsy Sparrow, an associate professor of psychology at Columbia University, along with her collaborators, used trivia quizzes and word lists in a four-part experiment researching how sophisticated search engines have affected the way we memorize information. They discovered that the participants were far more likely to remember information if they thought that they would not be able to find it at a later stage. However, if they were confident that could look it up in the future, they remembered the key terms rather than the data. The study reported that the Internet has in fact become an external storage system for our brains. Dr. Sparrow has been quoted as saying, “Human memory is adapting to new communications technology.” And not all adaptions, it seems, are positive.

I love technology, but as is the case with everything addictive, it has to be moderated. As a result, I’ve begun playing a little parlor game of my own. When a challenging question is raised in conversation, I no longer hit my Google shortcut. Instead, I continue the discussion and try to tease out the answer by speculation, educated guesswork, and probability. You know, the ways we did a decade ago. I no longer hit my contacts button on the phone to dial a number for me; I am working on memorizing my list, at least for the numbers I use most frequently. Instead of treadmills that take me nowhere, I use my local park to go for a run. I smell the air and watch the seasons change.

Although this may all seem a little sanctimonious in our hustle-bustle, always-on, technologically stuffed lives, I’m working on exercising my mind as well as my mouse-clicking texting fingers. I now even switch off the auto reverse in all my rental cars. Parking garage walls the world over: You’re welcome.


[Image: Flickr user Ben Adams, and Keoni Cabral]

Read More

Fast Company: How Enemies Power Innovation

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – May 1, 2012

What we can all learn about the art of business from Pepsi’s epic war with Coke and Apple’s public dust-ups with Microsoft.

Not long ago I spoke with a group of teenagers about branding. Soon enough the subject turned toward Coca-Cola. For my own curiosity, I asked them who they considered Coke’s main enemy. Of course, I was expecting them to state the obvious–Pepsi. Instead the room went kind of quiet. No one was sure.

The hyper competitiveness of the Coke-Pepsi dynamic, which I grew up with, was unknown to them. I tried jogging their memories by mentioning Michael Jackson strutting his stuff in a glittering black jacket, singing “I’m Bad.” Nothing. So I said: “Remember the ad, the one where Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire?” They did not.

And yet, to this day, retired executives at both beverage companies claim that the real reason why their brands achieved world dominance was, in the fighting words of one executive, “Every day we went to work, we went to war.” Had Pepsi and Coke not had each other, the chances that their brands would spread to more than 100 countries around the world would have been very slim.

Pepsi and Coke are not alone. From the very beginning, the tech powerhouse Apple positioned their products in direct opposition to IBM. And when IBM no longer posed a threat, they took on Microsoft. At almost every opportunity Steve Jobs had to talk in public, he would subtly, and often not so subtly, run down his competition. Today, if we look at where IBM and Microsoft are in relation to Apple, the results of that tactic (among many others) pretty much speak for themselves.

But what happens when the enemy is no longer? It’s hard for Apple to continue claiming its underdog position. Those “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” commercials have lost their relevance. No one is about to identify with Apple as an underdog since the company has become the biggest and, arguably, the most powerful brand in the world. Ironically, Samsung is now mimicking the Mac-PC tactic but targeting Apple. And in yet another twist on the same idea, Samsung has become the largest cell phone manufacturer, outstripping both Apple and Nokia. Nokia, for its part, is now playing the underdog to a degree, with ads that seem to take on Apple (and maybe just about every other smartphone to come before the Lumia 900).

While speaking with the kids who were too young to remember the Pepsi-Coke wars, I realized that it’s important for a brand to keep the focus on their enemy in the public arena. That passionate opinion that people once held for either Coke or Pepsi in the 1970s and ’80s has faded from consciousness as the enmity melted into oblivion and both brands thrived.

As I consult with brands across the world, I always ask the executives about their main competitors–in other words, I ask them to name their enemies. They all have at least one. However, when I ask them how “public” their enemy is, the conversation generally stalls. Many executives have become afraid of offending anyone. But the truth is, this is exactly what I think they need to do: offend their enemies.

It’s interesting to note how some of the biggest, most grand events and organizations in the world revolve around competitors and competition. Think about religion and sports. So many different kinds of scenarios can be attributed to an us-versus-them mentality. As human beings and social creatures, we are hardwired to congregate in groups. Our groups share opinions, friendships, and enemies. The more polarized we become, the stronger we feel a sense of belonging, and the more assured we are of our place in space. Imagine going to a football game and vacillating about which team you support. Chances are the real fans of both teams would shun you. “You’re either with us or against us”–a very useful phrase for momentum building and crowd growing.

In the rent-a-car wars that began in 1962, Avis positioned itself as No. 2. This allowed it to claim the underdog spot, permanently, and constantly aspiring to be better than the market leader. Its slogan–‘We try harder”–became the cornerstone of the company, and it’s maintained this position ever since. In 2012, it’s still at it, working harder to be the best.

As the corporate world becomes slicker and savvier, and as the legal and compliance departments desperately try to protect their role, the competitive edge once witnessed (and enjoyed) by brands and their fans around the world seems to have faded away. But is this really the best strategy to pursue? Or would it perhaps be better to name an enemy and put the brand on the line? Yes, it requires courage, determination, and a fierce focus, but aren’t these the very ingredients that successful companies are supposedly made of?

As my conversation with the teenagers came to an end, one kid came up and asked me, “So, who is Coke’s enemy?” I told him to guess. After a few thoughtful moments he said, “Tap water.” He had a point, but if I were a Coke executive, I sure would’ve wished he’d named Pepsi.


Read More

Fast Company: The Truth Dresses Down

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – April 17, 2012

What I learned about honesty from showing up at a stranger’s home an hour early.

When I showed up on the London doorstep of a stranger’s home, an hour too early, something unusual happened. What first began as a scheduling mix-up resulted in one of the most profound consumer observations I’ve ever made.

Admittedly, my job is somewhat out of the ordinary, and my consumer research sometimes takes me to very strange places. This week I explored the psychology of feminine hygiene. Last week it was shampoo, and only just three weeks ago, I was looking into the various ways consumers use condoms. No matter the subject I’m researching, though, I have found that one of the most effective methods is to visit consumers in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. I’ve learned that it offers a glimpse of a quite different people than I would see if I’d had them come into an interview room and viewed their behavior from a more formal setting. Not only can the unfamiliar setting alienate subjects, it often leads them to compete with others there and frame their answers to appear sophisticated and knowledgeable.

So this time, I rang the doorbell and patiently waited, ready to get on with my first interview in my subject’s home. Instead, the woman who answered the door looked like I’d woken her up, bed hair and all. She was clutching her robe, and she peered at me through sleep-filled eyes. This had never happened to me before. Although we instruct all our respondents to behave as they would on an ordinary day, they tend to dress up. I regard it as a natural response to entertaining a stranger in your home. I immediately apologized, hastily explaining that I’d just flown in from Frankfurt and had gotten the time zones confused. I offered to return in an hour.

But it was too late. The cat was out the bag. I’d already seen behind the façade. It was certainly an uncomfortable moment, but the woman was resigned to the idea that she had already been seen without her public face on. So, she invited me in anyway.

As we settled into her living room to chat, I noticed a dramatic difference between this and my previous interviews. She was startlingly honest from the beginning. There was no beating around the bush, no dressing up the truth. Of course, there were no shoes or makeup either. Whatever she said came across as totally honest and completely authentic.

Was this interview a lucky once-off? It seemed so, because as the day wore on, and one interview followed another, the honesty I encountered earlier in the day was non-existent amongst the others. What had happened?

Over the years, I’ve become attuned to the subtle nuances of consumers’ behavior. I can pick up details that few would even notice. I’m talking about small features that most people would regard as insignificant, but which, in reality, can be the making or breaking of a brand. (Often the focus is on female subjects, who represent 65% of global spending and more than 80% of U.S. spending.)

Take for example, the way a woman arranges her perfume bottles on the bathroom shelf. This small, individual detail often tells more about her self-esteem than those most close to her would be aware of. (A woman with a fairly low self-esteem has a tendency to give the more exclusive brands prominence, while the more common brands are tucked behind.)

I’ve also become quite adept at body language. I always feel a sense of satisfaction when the woman I’m talking to takes off her shoes and settles into the couch; I call this the revelation moment. I can also pick the hardcore shopaholics by the number of artifacts on display in her hallway.

By now I’ve done over a thousand interviews. My preparations are rigorous, and the interviews are conducted thoroughly and systematically in order to glean the most accurate insights. Yet, despite my diligent preparation and carefully crafted framework, my scheduling mishap highlighted a tiny but vital detail that could raise questions about the results of all my past interviews.

I’m sure you’re well familiar with the way women feel as they prepare themselves for a night out. A good dress can work wonders for their self-esteem, and thus their demeanor. But what had totally eluded me, until this serendipitous moment, was a woman’s makeup cabinet.

The night after my interview, as I swam my laps in the pool, it occurred to me that the honesty of the interview to which I’d showed up early was not coincidental. The fact that I arrived unexpectedly seemed to have made all the difference. It’s a phenomenon called “enclothed cognition,” and it refers to the influence clothes have on the psychological processes of the wearer. Joshua I. Davis, an expert on embodied cognition, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “When we put on certain clothes, we might more readily take on a role.”

Dr. Adam D. Galinsky, from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, led a study into the effects of clothing on cognitive processes. In one of his experiments, reported on in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, he randomly assigned 74 students with one of three tasks–wearing a doctor’s coat, wearing a painter’s coat, or simply looking at a doctor’s coat. They were subsequently tested for the amount of attention they paid to the task. They were shown two very similar images on the same screen, and they were asked to quickly jot down four minor differences. Those wearing the doctor’s coat (incidentally exactly the same as the painter’s coat) found more differences indicating heightened attention.

We all take on many roles in our lives. For example, we behave differently with a friend’s parents than we do with the friend. As our knowledge of psychology increasingly peels back the many human layers, I’ve come to see how even the smallest and most subtle signals and gestures can transform a personality. It seems just carrying a heavy clipboard has the power to make one feel more important. So being caught without makeup might indeed help facilitate more openness.

Needless to say, I now make a habit of showing up early for my home visits, because those 60 minutes could make all the difference to the future success of a brand.

[Image: Flickr user glenngould]


Read More

Fast Company: Want To Be More Creative? Get Bored

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – April 4, 2012

Where and when do you do your best thinking? For me, it’s in the pool. As I power up and down the lanes, I rethink what I’ve learned. I now have the time and space to solve whatever problems have arisen. It’s an important meeting with myself, and I keep it religiously. Because the day I lose it, I’ve lost myself.

Quick: Survey your friends, your family, and colleagues and ask them when it is that they get their best and brightest ideas. How do they come to solve insurmountable challenges? And when despairing over the unsolvable, how does their breakthrough moment occur?

Don’t be surprised if many of those you ask say something like: “I sleep on it. Then as soon as I get in the shower in the morning… voila!”

For what it’s worth, the shower doesn’t do it for me–I’m a pool man. When my head is cluttered and I can’t think straight, I don my goggles and go for a swim. After the first couple of laps, the confusion begins to lift, and the answers start emerging. What the shower and the pool have in common is they’re both places where you’re rarely disturbed, allowing solitary contemplation. The warm water sure doesn’t hurt, either.

This is all related to a phenomenon that’s been identified by Edward de Bono, the legendary creative thinker. He calls it the “creative pause.” In de Bono’s book Serious Creativity, he asserts that even when things are going along, well, swimmingly, “some of the best results come when people stop to think about things that no one else has stopped to think about.”

Although most people are unaware of the name for it, creative pauses are happening wherever people are solving problems. They occur among harassed CEOs, design directors, and small-business entrepreneurs. The creative pause allows the space for your mind to drift, to imagine and to shift, opening it up to new ways of seeing.

There’s just one small problem: The creative pause might soon become a thing of the past. When was the last time you remember being bored? Or even having a moment free from distractions?

I know it sounds strange, but I welcome boredom. It forces me to ponder. But to make sure we’re on the same page, when I speak of boredom, I’m not referring to killing time on your smartphone, your iPad, or your laptop. I’m not even talking about paging through a book. I mean bored as in doing absolutely nothing.

Because here’s the rub–when we’re at our most bored we’re forced to push our creative boundaries, and unearth the root of whatever problem we’re working on. A quick glance around and you’ll notice that it’s almost impossible to be bored in our 21st-century environment. Every bar now has at least one television blaring. And just as night follows day, your eyes will be drawn to the moving pictures above, sapping whatever creative thoughts you could be having. Or take, for example, the last time you were alone at a restaurant waiting for a friend to join you. Chances are you reached for your phone and did something with it, anything to avoid appearing like the lonely loser in the corner.

If you’re still struggling to remember your last bored moment, consider the younger generation. When you were younger, perhaps you hung out on the street with other neighborhood kids. Or maybe you shot a few hoops or cycled down to the drugstore. There were no PlayStations, Xboxes, Wiis, or the latest game apps to play on or offline. Have you noticed how quiet suburban streets are these days?

Back in the 1990s, when Lego asked me to explore the consequences of digital play versus physical play, I discovered how many kids were preoccupied with the tactile aspects of play–how kids were already preoccupied with Tamagotchis, those handheld digital pets that need regular feeding, walking, and sleep. Tamagotchis hit the toy world like an out-of-control virus, making a huge dent in Lego’s Christmas figures. It seemed the more kids played with a screen, the greater their chances of losing their creative skills. Digitized pocket toys have a set sequence of steps to follow, and as soon as kids get the gist of the game, they fall into a passive-interactive mode.

This new development in the toy market was potentially disastrous for Lego, who, in principle, requires a user to bring their imagination to the connecting plastic bricks in order build the object of their fancy. However, as I was busily conducting experiments with interactive play, I accidentally stumbled upon a small realization. It began as an ordinary day. The children were involved in interactive play on a computer screen, and I was handing them the Lego bricks, asking them to create something. But then something extraordinary happened. The entire network broke down, and it took a long 20 minutes for the IT engineers to restore the system. Then it was back to business as usual. Except this time, when I handed over the bricks, the activity level increased. I began seeing Lego castles, trains, bridges, roller coasters, and monsters being built. Those 20 minutes of boredom gave rise to a remarkably productive output, and taught me the value of being bored.

Boredom, however, is becoming an endangered activity. Once lost, it’s not likely to return, because being entertained 24/7 is what kids have come to expect. In fact, by the time I began researching the power of word of mouth for my book Brandwashed, a frenzy of digital toys, apps, games, and screens had become endemic.

These days, I schedule a regular dose of boredom into my day. Furthermore, I don’t check messages if I’m waiting for a friend. I choose, instead, to watch people in bars, cafes, and restaurants. I don’t play games on my phone or my computer. I carry an old Nokia that no one would dream of stealing. More often than not, I hit the pool at the end of the day. As I power up and down the lanes, I rethink what I’ve learned. I now have the time and space to solve whatever problems have arisen. It’s an important meeting with myself, and I keep it religiously. Because the day I lose it, I’ve lost myself.

[Image: Flickr user MichaelKuhn_pics]


Read More

Fast Company: The Psychology Behind The Sweet Spots Of Pricing

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – March 27, 2012

Thanks to the likes of Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari, and the brains who created Google Wallet, $5 is the new 99 cents. It’s funny what makes customers loosen their purse strings.

Have you ever noticed how some stores mark the price of their goods with a “$” sign, while others don’t? This is not by accident. It fact, the decision to include that little symbol (or not) makes a big difference.

Over the past few years, pricing analysis specialists have determined that it’s far more effective to price goods without the iconic dollar symbol. It seems that when a currency sign appears with the price, we automatically connect it to our very own hip pockets or purses–and what is or isn’t inside there–leading us to believe the item in question is more expensive than it actually is.

Researchers at Cornell University tested this idea at St. Andrew’s Café, part of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. There they offered three types of menus. The first had the price listed with a dollar sign in front of the numerals; the second had the price without a dollar sign; and the third had the price with the word “dollar” spelled out.

They determined that when the prices were listed with the dollar sign, customers spent less. Conversely, when the dollar sign was absent, they tended to spend more. In other words, they were quicker to fork over their cash if the item was listed as “5.00” as opposed to “$5.00.” (And $5 is an important amount, as we will soon see.) Even when the word “dollar” was spelled out, it triggered the “pain-of-paying” response.

This means that $5 isn’t always $5 in our emotional thinking. Similarly, if an old sales gimmick is to be believed, 1 cent can be worth a lot more than 1 cent. We’ve all seen signs selling items for, say, $4.99, rather than $5.00. That’s because we tend to think of $4.99 as being more closely related to $4 than $5.

Professor Robert Schindler, a marketing professor at Rutgers Business School, conducted a study of a women’s clothing retailer. He found that the 1 cent difference between prices ending in .99 and .00 had “a considerable effect on sales,” with items whose prices ended with .99 far outselling those ending with .00.

The 99-cent concept has been around for decades. David Gold and his wife started the 99 Cents Only stores in 1982. There are now nearly 280 branches across California, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas, and the chain was sold last year for $1.6 billion. But perhaps even more pertinent to this idea is how Steve Jobs managed to wrest the music industry back from file-sharing free downloaders with his 99-cents-per-song iTunes strategy. It made music so cheap almost everyone could afford to buy their favorite tune without causing too much pain in the pocket.

According to a study conducted by Kenneth J. Wisniewski from the University of Chicago, when the price of margarine dropped from 89 cents to 71 cents at a local grocery chain, sales improved by 65%. But when the price fell two cents more to 69 cents, sales jumped by an astounding 222%! Two pennies are worth a lot.

More recently Google released Google Wallet, a new mobile payment system. Then it offered customers $5 compensation for the pain of having to endure a few security hiccups. This was not long after online purchases of perfomances by comedians Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari spiked. Each of those shows cost exactly $5. In certain instances, it appears, $5 is the new 99 cents. Or at least the price point works on a similar psychological mechanism.

The study of pricing strategies is an area of expertise for John T. Gourville, a professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He reckons it’s all about the power of suggestion. In a New York Times article from last year, Gourville said: “Many people buy the amount, or buy in increments, that are advertised–five for $5, they end up buying five boxes of couscous or whatever it happens to be.”

This idea relates to buying trends: The more us consumers see products–whether comedy or couscous–on sale for $5, the more comfortable we become parting with that amount.

The fact that Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari are having such remarkable success with their new $5 pricing is fascinating. It breaks with many lessons on pricing we’ve learned in the past, including the use of a whole number. Has $5.00 usurped $4.99 as a sweeter spot for luring customers?

Time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: If the entertainment industry embraces a $1.00 price tag per song, they’re likely to be even more successful than they’ve been with 99 cents. That is, as long as they remember to remove the dollar sign.

[Image: Flickr user JulieFaith]


Read More

TIME – “Living in the Moment”: The Latest Marketing Meme

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – April 2, 2012

It’s a message that makes us feel strangely optimistic and important. It also gets us to buy stuff.

I recently found myself eavesdropping on a conversation at a cafe between two men in their twenties. “I want to try live more in the moment,” one of them said. “In fact, I’m going to have to put some serious effort into this notion, because I tend to focus on the future and, in the process, I neglect the present.” His friend, nodding away, seemed in perfect agreement. It was eerily similar to other conversations I’d heard, and had, in the last year. This feeling of neglecting the present is a real phenomenon.

As the tentacles of technology continue to encroach further into our personal space, people are only ever semi-present. Think of the last time you ate dinner with friends. How many cell phones were taken out at the gathering? How many texts were received and sent? How many times did a phone ring? How often did your companions check for emails? There was a time when I’d enjoy a quiet moment sitting in a restaurant, surveying the scene, as I waited for my dinner date to arrive. Now, feelings of self-consciousness overcome me. I feel conspicuous and a bit of a loser with no real connection. As a result, I too reach for my smart phone. And that still moment between arrival and reconnecting with a friend has become a thing of the past.

The erosion of the present is a real phenomenon. And it gets compounded when news events, like the death of Steve Jobs or Whitney Houston, remind you of the fragility and transience of life and force you to question whether you are, in fact, making the most of every moment. But this anxiety is also something that’s increasingly being used by marketers to sell products. In a recent advertisement for Honda, Matthew Broderick tells us,  “Sometimes you have to live a little … Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!” Another car ad, for Citroen’s latest DS3 model, has Marilyn Monroe questioning people’s taste for nostalgia and their desire to live in the past. Her advice is as direct as it is breathy. She says, “If I had one thing to say, it would be: live your life now!” Of course, Citroen will help show you the way.

This message makes us feel strangely optimistic, important even. Time’s a wasting, you only live once, and you have agency to push back against the frantic busyness of today’s world. But there may also be another dynamic at work. In 2005, Scott D. Swain and Lisa J. Abendroth of Boston University and Richard Hanna of Boston College discovered by studying consumers and advertising campaigns that creating a sense of “urgency” actually increases purchases.

One of Hollywood’s more successful producers recently informed me that ‘living in the moment’ has replaced Hollywood’s previous favorite aphorism, ‘You can make it happen.’ This supposedly fashionable notion is well over 2,500 years old. After all, it was the Buddha who famously taught, “Do not dwell in the past. Do not dream of the future. Concentrate the mind on the present moment.” I guess it is just a matter of time before some brand adapts the line as part of a larger marketing scheme.


Read More

Fast Company: Your Car Key Knows More About You Than Your Mom Does

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – March 14, 2012

Unless, that is, you are very close with your mom. Welcome to the data-driven, score-keeping, real-world, competitive game that is a gadget-packed modern life.

The other day I was going through the necessary rigmarole of getting my car serviced when I learned about yet another surprising way the details of your life can be revealed. That’s because mechanics working on the most recent car models know a whole lot more about your car than you’ve told them. They can tell the number of accidents its been involved in, how hard the car’s been driven, and even how often the car’s exceeded the speed limit. This information is neither held on a central database, nor is it a part of any police record. No, the details are all contained in the car key.

Every time you turn the key to start your brand spanking new car, it activates a database that quietly gathers all kinds of information, including behavioral data. This information is extremely useful for dealers wanting to know just how well the car’s been treated. There’s no point in concealing just how fast you’ve driven it or how many times the airbags have been activated. The key will reveal all, and you can be sure that the valuation of the vehicle will be commensurate with the data the dealer has accessed.

It would be naïve to assume that this kind of data gathering will be restricted to the humble car key. It will not be long before anything and everything we interact with can potentially gather data. (In some industries, of course, this is alreadywell under way.) Imagine the tales something as simple as a toothbrush will be able to tell. One need only cast one’s mind back to those little red pills children were given that revealed all the spots that the toothbrush had neglected. Some kids chewed them, some swallowed them whole, while others spent a fair amount of time brushing off the red stains. Above and beyond teaching kids to brush their teeth properly, the exercise was fun.

It’s been rumored that toothbrush manufacturers are planning to release an entirely new generation of products. These products all contain mini processors that will enable the toothbrush to evaluate the way you brush your teeth. The end result will not be red stains, but points calculated.

In due course, everything we touch will become just another prop in the giant computer game of life. To some extent, this is already the case with frequent flyer points. Ratchet up the air miles and you can exchange points for items as diverse as gift cards, iPods, and coffee makers, or you can simply cash in your points to take another flight.

Before long, we could be earning points by driving economically with an eye out for the environment. So, every time we cut the engine and coast down the hill, we might earn eco points. Ford already keeps track of your driving with the plant icon on the dashboard. The better your driving, the more leaves appear on the plant. However, you’d be mistaken to believe that the game will stop at your car’s dashboard. The next generation car key will keep track of your overall driving performance, and will then issue an appropriate number of points. These points will undoubtedly play an important role in determining the value of your vehicle when it comes time to sell.

In an interview I once conducted with Jesse Schell, a professor of game design at Carnegie Mellon, he postulated that even the public bus is likely to turn into a game–the more often you take it, the more points you’ll receive. The accumulation of bus points could be redeemed in a system of tax relief, a reward in recognition of your support of the environment.

Gamification has proven to be a serious motivator. I recently visited a woman in North Carolina who was so very proud of a recent achievement. She’d managed to lose more than 10 pounds in just two weeks, something she’s never achieved before.  “How did you manage to do it this time?” I politely asked. She dragged me off to the bathroom and pointed to her scale. To my untrained eyes, it looked like any other bathroom scale. But this one was different. It connected online, automatically storing her weight. Furthermore, it automatically tweeted her weight to a group of friends, all competing for the greatest weight loss.

According to data gathered by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 72% of American households play computer and video games. And women over the age of 18 are the industry’s fastest-growing demographic. They represent a sizeable portion–42%–of all gamers. The average computer gamer is 37 years old, and they have been playing for at least 12 years.

Computer games extend well beyond the home. For the past decade, the military has prepared soldiers for battle by using game simulators. Doctors, pilots, and racecar drivers all make extensive use of games in their training. Games are already extending beyond their specialized disciplines. They’ve moved into classrooms, living rooms and, yes, even bathrooms.

A leading programmer explained that the reason games are so appealing is that they are flexible enough to adjust to our own level. Then they challenge us to move beyond that, taking it up a notch at a time. The good news about all this is that games can take a tedious activity and make it fun. We can strive to brush our teeth so that every nook and cranny is covered. Exercise on the Wii has taken off in kindergartens and retirement villages. The flipside of this is that as we become increasingly dependent on games accompanying our most tedious chores, we are increasingly becoming a nation of gamblers. The more we’re exposed to gaming, the more we play. And we’re all getting hooked.

It may not be much fun when our fast driving record stands in the way of getting the price we want to sell the car but, overall, the news is positive. Just imagine new and innovative games to help us save the environment. Perhaps entire households will compete against each other to see who’s saving the most energy.

The big question is: Are you ready to play?

[Image: Flickr user Denis Gustavo]


Read More

Fast Company: The Truth About That Mysterious, Sudden, Overwhelming Chocolate Craving

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – March 9, 2012

If, like me, you’re a chocoholic, you know all too well about those moments when every ounce of your being is overwhelmed by the desire to taste chocolate. At those times, you can think of nothing else. If you’re a smoker, a coffee drinker, or a daily Coke sipper, you’re no doubt familiar with strong cravings that force you to single-mindedly pursue what your body is crying out for. Cravings come at the oddest times in the most peculiar places and I can’t help but wonder what sets it off. I mean, why am I craving this chocolate right now–and not an hour ago?

If you’re familiar with my books–Brandwashed or Buyology–you know that I strongly believe our subconscious mind controls almost all of our behavior. Working with the soft drink industry, I’ve come to see that the slightest hint of a carbonated bubble on the can translates into an increase in sales well into the millions. So, it’s hardly surprising that Coke executives can spend hours debating how many bubbles will be displayed in ads, on posters, and on bottles and cans. They are well aware that the correct number of bubbles can inspire the very cravings that work wonders for their profit margins.

A similar phenomenon occurs with the curved red roofs that are commonly found at McDonald’s. In fact, those slanted roofs generate 54% more business than more ordinary ones and, astoundingly, this is regardless of whether they’re topped with the golden arches or not. Now, if a few bubbles or a curve in a roof can make such a remarkable difference, there must an almost unquantifiable number of other signals that we’re subconsciously taking in every day.

A short while ago, I was heading to the airport with a good friend who has a taste for gambling. I happened to notice a roadside sign that said: “Airport – 36 miles.” Within moments, he was pondering the possibility of finding a casino close to where we were going. Curious, I asked him what prompted this particular musing. He simply replied: “No particular reason.” As I turned this over in my head, I recalled the sign. 36 miles. I then remembered that 36 is his lucky number. Was this merely coincidental?

Another case. My mother is a heavy smoker. For decades I tried every trick in the book to persuade her to quit. I left horrifying articles in her bedside drawer. I begged and pleaded. I urged her to try hypnotherapy, nicotine replacement therapy, and even going cold turkey. Nothing succeeded. I had resigned myself to failure. However, with my recent work in the neuroscience field, I decided to change my approach and give it one more go.

I somehow managed to persuade her to quit smoking for just one week. I then asked her to rank the experience on an hourly basis using a scale from 0-100 (with 100 being most difficult). The average score showed to be in the high 90s, reflecting what’s unquestionably a tough experience. In the week that followed, I decided to redecorate the family home. (Forgive me–I’m an only child, and we only children tend to be quite demanding.) As I made my way through each room, I purged every little item that had a connection with smoking. I gathered matches and cigarette packs, ashtrays, and lighters. The implements filled two whole boxes. I then asked her to go through the rating-the-craving exercise again. Surprisingly, the ratings were now in the high 80s. Apart from the fact that she was in her second week of not smoking, it reinforced my theory that our subconscious is constantly absorbing signs and signals that play a role in our behavior.

By systematically beginning to be conscious of each time my chocolate cravings begin, I then began to backtrack to see whether I could identify something that had triggered the desire. The results were quite revealing. It could be anything from a Toblerone resting on top of my hotel room’s mini bar to an ordinary carpet decorated in brightly colored dots. These blue, red, green, and yellow circles were all that my mind needed to wander into an M&M reverie. The most disconcerting thing about this exercise was that I had been unconscious of the effect these symbolic images have on us, whether they are intentional (as in the case of advertisers) or not.

But if the shape of a roof, a bubble on a soft-drink can, or a carpet’s colorful circular pattern can make us crave a burger, a soda, or a chocolate, do we become more susceptible to these subconscious signals when we’re hungry? It is a question that Rémi Radel of the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis in France recently decided to tackle. Using 42 students with a normal body mass index, he instructed them to not to eat for four hours before arriving at the lab. Some were told there was a delay and they were to go get lunch before returning. Some were asked to wait 10 minutes. In other words, half were hungry when they took the test, while the other half were not.

The test involved looking at a computer screen where 80 words were individually flashed on the screen at the rate of one per 300th of a second–too brief to be read. About a quarter of the words were food related, and the participants were asked to rate how bright they were. Hungry people reported food-related words as brighter. In fact, they were far better at picking them. Last week, the results were published in the APS journal Psychological Science.

Rémi Radel was able to conclude that hungry people saw the food-related words as brighter and were better at identifying food-related words. He said that that our brain is at the “disposal of our motives and needs.” According to him, “There is something inside us that selects information in the world to make life easier.” The subconscious is obviously ever-vigilant.

So, next time you feel a craving coming on, take time out to examine where you’ve just been and what you’ve just seen. The chances are that your free-floating thoughts are not quite so free. Or we could just dispense with all the theorizing and bring on the chocolate! That’s one thing that makes me happy.


Read More

Fast Company: How To Be Happy Anywhere

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – February 28, 2011

For my job I spent 300 days traveling the world last year. I met a lot of happy people. Who they are and where they live will surprise you.

The other day, as I took a taxi ride across Manhattan, the driver was pondering the state of the world. “I can’t believe all these disasters happening everywhere,” he said. “If it’s not a flood, it’s a tsunami. There are fires and hurricanes and earthquakes… then there are riots and bombs and wars and shootings.” He kept shaking his head as he muttered, “What is this world coming to?”

On the one hand, it’s difficult not to agree with him. We need look no further, after all, than the latest headlines to see the world has turned into a pretty horrifying place. But then again: Is this really the case?

Let me explain. My job as a brand guy has a few advantages. One of them is that I get to see a lot of different places–I spent 300 days away from home last year–and my research takes me into a lot of private homes. And the upshot? I’ve begun seeing people in a new light. I’ve begun to question why some people find happiness wherever they may be, and others don’t. Last week I visited one of the poorest districts in Medellin, Colombia. The town’s very first escalator had recently been installed. The technology was so unfamiliar, it required strategically located spotters with the sole purpose of instructing people how to ride it. I was thoroughly absorbed watching the looks on the faces of the kids who were transfixed by the site of moving stairs. When I asked them about happiness, they waved their hands in the air and laughed. They dismissed happiness as a Western thing, and suggested we stop talking about it and just get on with the business of living.

I had a similar encounter in a remote region of Thailand, where even though electricity was scarce, there was a general sense of well-being in the village. Kids happily played in the streets, a sight one rarely encounters these days in Western suburbs. A kindly older woman told me that happiness is when the family is together. Given the fairly intact nature of the rural village, people looked pretty content with their lot.

Another journey took me way into the Australian bush to a place where a toilet capable of flushing would be a novelty. Kids were busy kicking around a football on the street, but almost all took time out to speak to me, curious about who I was and what I was doing there. A young man told me that he felt happy when he helped others. He tried to perform one act of kindness a day. This young man had only seen television twice in his life.

But it was when I got the chance to visit some of the 60 million newly built homes in China that all this really hit, well, home. Each new home was wired for the 21st century. Every room had television screens hooked up to high-speed Internet and each home came equipped with the latest in electronic gadgetry. In fact, the entire block was connected to a community intranet designed to help the neighbors stay in touch. I couldn’t help noticing that there was an important element missing: smiles. I didn’t see one of them.

I pursued my questions of happiness with a young Chinese family who had only been living in the city for two years.  There responses were measured. They said, “We’re doing fine, but there is still so much to achieve before we will become truly happy.”  It seems the family aspired to all the things they were seeing being won on the daily online video shows. “I’ve seen what you can get, and we still don’t have many of the things. So, we need to work harder. Then, I’m sure, one day we will get there.

The city was orderly. There were no children playing outside. I’d been instructed to wear a mask, wrap my shoes in plastic, and sit on a cover on the chair.  Everything was to stay clean and uncontaminated. Almost all the homes I visited around Beijing and Shanghai shared the same idea that sanitary living meant living a longer life.

An old boss of mine once instructed me never to reveal my salary to anyone. He maintained that it was a necessary secret because, if people knew what others earned, it would only lead to unhappiness. He was right. I came to realize that the more informed we are, the less happy we become because of our tendency to get caught up in constant comparisons. Working on this principle, it seems that the more limited the access to electronic media, the more time people spend together as friends and family and the higher the happiness quotient seemed to be. (Of course, this is just one man’s observation: There is no shortage of studies and best-selling books on the subject.) Meanwhile, my Chinese family, who had the chance to compare their life with others, seemed unhappier than ever. Using a bar set by the mass media, they felt they’d failed to achieve their full potential.

Now I know what I should have told my despairing taxi driver. The reality is that there have never been as few wars as there are today. Humankind has never been as healthy or as wealthy. Our contemporary techno-media wonderland means that whenever a disaster occurs, almost anywhere in the world, we know about it within hours. Only recently, we heard about a cruise ship sinking of the coast of Italy, a shooting incident in Belgium, and a bushfire in Western Australia. Our brains are not really wired to accommodate such a proliferation of bad news, regardless of it happening thousands of miles away. One disaster after another compounds, and increases feelings of helplessness.

Does that mean that on some level we’ve lost our way? Absolutely not. But what it does mean is that we need to realize that with the ever-increasing media outlets, we must be vigilant in maintaining our own personal view of happiness. No matter how high you set your goals, you may never actually get there. So, what is my definition of happiness? A good friend once said to me, “Happiness is not measured by the number of days you live but, rather, by the number of days you remember.

I’ll buy that. One thing is for sure, I won’t be forgetting my time with all those happy people.

Read More

Fast Company: Brands Get Physical To Build Trust

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – February 22, 2011

From handshakes to hardware, intimate signals constantly affect us in life. As the world becomes increasingly digital, we are losing many sensory signals that once moved us. Here’s what can companies do to reclaim these touching moments.

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of reaching out to shake someone’s hand, only to be surprised by a palm so limp that it feels more like a dead fish than a warm welcome. What was your immediate impression of the person? How, then, did you reassess them? If you thought it indicative of a weak character, you’re onto something.

Some years ago, researchers at the University of Alabama studied 112 male and female students whose handshakes were evaluated by four handshake coders. The coders had received one month of training and practice in shaking hands and evaluating handshakes before the study began. The students, who didn’t know their handshakes were being evaluated, had their hands shaken eight times (twice with all four experimenters) and they also completed four personality questionnaires.

Results of the study, led by Dr. William F. Chaplin, showed that a person’s handshake is consistent over time and is related to some aspects of his or her personality. Those with a firm handshake were more extroverted and open to experience, and less neurotic and shy than those with a less firm or limp handshake. What strikes me is that we are somehow intuitively aware of this personality evaluation filter, where something as simple as a touch significantly influences our decision-making processes.

Having worked with sensory signals throughout my career, I’ve come to appreciate how the smallest sensory details can have the greatest impact. Take, for example, the sound and feel of opening a bottle of water. You’re at least subconsciously familiar with the subtle click of a breaking seal. However, let’s say you’re in India, where the water bottles open silently. When I heard about the absence of the subtle click, I questioned the safety of the water. Apparently I wasn’t alone: I remember reading about a competitive water bottler who took advantage of this, changed the top so that it clicks, and gained a competitive advantage in the water market place. People believe the water is safer.

Signals across almost every aspect of our lives affect us. It’s interesting to note that, as we become increasingly digital, we are losing many sensory signals that once surrounded us. Others, however, often replace these. We’ve come to depend on a whole new set of tones as we key in numbers on an ATM or a cell phone.

In order to investigate just how important our senses are, I initiated a small experiment exploring people’s perception of an unknown brand, based on the type of media where they were introduced to it. I wanted to look at how different media formats convey indirect messages.  But, most importantly, I was interested in seeing if the physical presence of a media channel, such as a billboard, would affect a person’s sensory impression of the advertised brand.

We established four different sources: a billboard, a storefront, a print ad and a banner ad. The fictitious brand, Insursafe, claiming to sell insurance, was featured in almost identical fashion across all four media platforms. We then questioned 132 volunteers on which source inspired the greater impact regarding trust and sensory impressions. Then using only those volunteers who had indeed noticed the message, we discovered something quite fascinating. The more ‘physical’ the media channel was, the more ‘solid’ was the impression it formed in the respondents’ brains. The signage on the storefront was the most trusted, followed by the billboard. They outperformed, by far, the print ad and banner ad. Not only was there greater trust for the fictitious insurance company when viewed on a building or a billboard, the volunteers also expressed a stronger emotional relationship with it.

Perhaps more surprisingly, people also felt a stronger sensory relationship with the brand that they saw on the shopfront and the billboard. When asked what senses they linked with Insursafe, the storefront and billboard registered three times more sensory connections than the print or banner ad. Bear in mind that no one had ever heard of this brand before and exactly the same logo and message appeared in all four options.

We have been led to believe that, as the world transitions to all things digital, we will naturally embrace whatever is on offer. This is far from true. Our brains regard a physical presence as a more reliable and trustworthy conveyer of messages and we also log more sensory impressions to the brand. Why, you may ask, is that so important? When I was conducting fMRI experiments for my book Buyology, I learned that the more sensory impressions a brand conveys, the more likely we are to remember it. This perhaps goes some way to explaining why that handshake is so important.

What occurs when we’re consistently deprived of sensory cues? My theory is that, for example, when we sit in front of a screen and push away at order-confirmation buttons, we need to find a way to compensate for the absence of touch.

So, as thousands of retail stores close their doors each day and hundreds of conventional media channels seem increasingly paralyzed by social media’s magnetic appeal, contextual messages and data mining, it just might be that the large signage displayed on the local office building or the CBS Outdoor billboard is massaging your brain in ways that no banner ad can hope to compete with.

Of course, I never said that. My message was merely conveyed by a firm handshake, based on trust.

Read More

Fast Company: The Future Of Ethics In Branding

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – February 13, 2011

Last year, I received an email I will never forget: One of the world’s tobacco giants wanted me to consult for them. It’s not that I’m a stranger to requests from the tobacco industry. In fact, ever since I published Buyology in 2008, my email address appears to be on every tobacco executive’s Rolodex. You see, among other things, the book addressed the issue of how the use of subliminal advertising in the industry was successfully getting smokers to smoke more. The fallout was spectacular, culminating in Philip Morris being forced to withdraw their $100 million sponsorship of Formula 1. After this, you would imagine the tobacco industry would not want anything to do with me. Surprisingly, they actually wanted to know more. That was the nature of the email in question.

The email started off quite diplomatically, requesting I consult with them. Nothing out of the ordinary. The ending, however, left me dumbstruck. Like something out of a science fiction novel, the tobacco giant wanted six months of my service. The inducements were mind-boggling. They would pay me a fee that would propel me into a very comfortable, early retirement. Not a bad thought for a hardworking man in his 30s. The scope of the offer took my breath away. I had to sit down and take stock. My mother has smoked since she was 15, and I grew up hearing her coughing and wheezing through the long winter months. My mother-in-law, also a lifelong smoker, had only just recently died from a smoking-related illness. So, after much deliberation and consideration, I felt I had little choice but to decline.

But when my friends and family came to learn of this lucrative offer, they thought I’d made a big mistake. My own family thought me to be a little ridiculous turning down an offer that would guarantee lifelong security for a mere six months’ work. I began feeling twinges of regret. Was I too quick to say no? At the time, my doubt was painful and all-consuming. For hours on end I pondered the questions: Should I? Could I? Maybe…

As you can imagine, this was not an easy time. However, one year on, I’m convinced I did the right thing. More importantly, it forced me to think about the ethics of the advertising industry in ways I’d never done before.

As a brand guy who’s worked in advertising all my life, I’ve seen my fair share of ethical issues. To be frank, ethics and advertising don’t go together all that well. They are not exactly on first name terms. Pick up the phone and call any advertising agency anywhere, and ask them about their ethical guidelines. Chances are you’ll be met with an embarrassing silence. In the same way that there are few schools you can go to to learn advertising, there are even fewer where you can learn the ethics of advertising. Training for a career in advertising commonly happens on the job, and the ethical guidelines are filed away somewhere in legal departments’ archived rules and restrictions.

As a brand futurist, an important function in my role is to predict the future for whatever industry I’m addressing. In 2003, I wrote the book BRANDchild, in which I predicted that every kid would become a personal brand. Each would have his own homepage which would act as a promotional hub promoting the child’s brand to the entire world. A bit like “I have a homepage, therefore I am.” Facebook, the social networking site, was launched in 2004. In 2005, I wrote BRANDsense. In it I predicted that every brand would harness senses other than sight and sound. Today, it’s estimated that two-thirds percent of the world’s Fortune 1000 brands include a multisensory platform in their brand strategy.

My prediction for 2012 is a rise in the importance of ethics. I foresee a kind of WikiLeaks emerging to tackle the maneuvrings of less-ethical brands. The move will come from an independent organization with the sole mission of disclosing what those companies are up to. Most companies will be vulnerable to being targeted, despite having some sort of written standards. You see, in most cases, the small print is far too complex and removed from consumers’ daily reality. The safety net as designed will hardly save a soul.

So how would one go about establishing a true safeguard? As I said, I’m a brand guy who’s worked in advertising for ages. So I’m not necessarily the right person to ask. Maybe we should ask the people most affected: the consumers. Last year, I began a study of 2,000 consumers in which I asked for their ethical perspectives. Their advice proved invaluable. We would be wise to take note of it:


  • Don’t do anything to kids and consumers that you would not do to your own children, friends, and family.
  • Every time you launch a campaign, a new product, or a service, secure an “ethical” sign-off from your target group. Develop your own independent consumer panel (a representative target audience) and disclose the perception of the product, as well as the reality. Let the consumers make the final call.
  • Align perception with reality. Your talents might very well lie in brilliantly creating convincing perceptions, but how do they stack up against the reality? If there’s a mismatch, one or the other must be adjusted in order for them to be in sync.
  • Be 100% transparent. Nothing less. The consumer needs to know what you know about them. Furthermore, they must be told exactly how you intend to use the information. If they don’t like what they see, they need a fair and easy way to opt out.
  • Almost any product or service has a downside, so don’t hide it. Tell it as it is. Be open and frank, and communicate the negatives in a simple and straightforward way.
  • All your endorsements and testimonials must be real–don’t fake them.
  • Does your product have a built-in expiration date? If so, be open about it and communicate it in a visible, clear, and easily understood manner.
  • Avoid fueling peer pressure among kids. Bear in mind you’d hate for your kids to come under such pressure.
  • Be open and transparent about the environmental impact of your brand (including its carbon footprint and sustainability factors).
  • Do not hide or over-complicate any legal language you must place in your ads or on your packaging. These should be treated just like any other commercial message, using a simple, easy-to-understand language.


My advice: The smart brand players out there should spend the next few years cleaning up their house. Honestly, you won’t find it that difficult. Furthermore, you won’t be forced to reject an offer that could fast track you to retirement. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll sleep better at night. Not a bad proposition, I’m sure you’d agree.


Read More

Fast Company: We Know What You Want And When You Will Buy It

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – February 7, 2012

A neuroscience technology breakthrough at the University of California, Berkeley, has major implications for the future of branding and marketing.

It finally happened. Neuroscience technology can now reliably read our minds. It’s an accepted fact that is no longer in dispute. Scientists working at the University of California, Berkeley, have successfully decoded brain activities into audible sounds. In other words, our inner thoughts can be translated into sounds clearly articulated by a computer. Needless to say, there are a whole lot of caveats attached to this claim. For a start, in order to make this kind of reading possible, it requires some 256 electrodes be surgically attached to the scalps of at least 15 volunteers. Furthermore, there’s a minefield of ethical issues attached to this endeavor that needs to be sorted out.

A couple of years ago I wrote Buyology, a book on neuromarketing that was based on 2,000 fMRI scans of volunteers’ brains. Thus I have witnessed firsthand the amazing results and the future that the neuroscientific approach is leading us to. As fascinating as it is, it can also be quite scary–particularly when combined with marketing. So, wearing my skeptic’s hat for just a moment, let me consider these questions: Will this new mind-reading research be the answer to the prayers of every advertising mogul and mainstream marketer? Will it finally provide the answer to the conundrum posed by John Wanamaker, the father of modern marketing, who famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Maybe. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The scientists in Berkeley focused on the brain’s temporal lobe–the home of the body’s auditory system–rather than the place where thoughts are formed. Although our inner voice tends to be dominated by less-articulated thoughts, it appears to be what drives our decision-making processes.

Take, for example, knocking on wood. Do you catch yourself doing it whenever you wish to ward off the gremlins of fate? There’s a 70% chance you do. I cited this figure in my most recent book, Brandwashed. Assuming this is part of what you do, I then want to know if it in fact works for you? How would you feel if I told you that I’ve conducted a study proving it’s a waste of time? I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised. But here’s the rub: would you continue doing it? Chances are you would. That’s what my study turned up.

Logic does not have much to do with it. And this fact is at the core of the endless challenge to marketers. How else could one explain why eight out of 10 new product releases fail despite countless hours of focus groups and exhaustive market research? That’s because the research fails to shed further light on advertisers’ vexed questions regarding what ad should be run on which particular media. It seems that there’s never been more doubt.

Now if you combine the Berkeley research with other recent studies, the picture becomes more fascinating. Take the study conducted by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, which reveals that our decisions are made up to 10 seconds before we become aware of them. In that study, participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand. The only condition required that they remembered that decision. While making that very decision, scientists used fMRI to scan the brains of the participants. They were looking to see whether they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use before they were consciously aware of their own decision.

By monitoring the micro patterns of activity in the frontopolar cortex, the scientists could predict which hand the participant would choose seven seconds before the participant was aware of the decision. In an interview with Wired, John-Dylan Haynes, the coauthor of the study, said, “Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done.”

With the recent findings made by the neuroscientists at Berkeley and those from the Max Planck Institute, does this mean that the “buy-button” has arrived? Not exactly–and, may I add, thank goodness. Reading our consumer mind is somewhat creepy. However, on the upside, many of the more dated research techniques (questionnaires, for example) are dying a natural death. Questionnaires believe emotions can be determined by “yes” or “no” questions, with a few extra lines to scribble in a more detailed explanation.

The days of relying on one source to draw an empirical conclusion are well and truly gone.

No single questionnaire or focus group, interview panel, or ethnographic visit will provide all the answers. Just as we know that to bake a cake requires numerous ingredients combined in specific quantities, so do we require a combination of factors and studies to achieve levels of accuracy that Wanamaker did not believe possible.

This leads me back to the vexing ethical questions. As someone who sits on both sides of the fence–I’m a brand guy as well as a consumer–I’ve naturally given this much thought. Even better, I’ve asked more than 2,000 consumers to share their views. And no, I did not subject them to brain scans. But this is a topic that cannot be covered in a concluding paragraph or two. Instead I’ll discuss it fully next week–and the results will startle you. Stay tuned.

Read More

Fast Company: Brand This Way – 3 Road-Tested Marketing Moves Ripped From Lady Gaga

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – January 31, 2011

There is much the corporate world can learn from this 25-year-old diva, whose talent for building a brand might even surpass her formidable performing chops.

On July 12, 2011, Lady Gaga’s private jet touched down on Australian soil. She was in town to promote her new album. The only formal gig planned for her was a mini-concert at the Sydney Town Hall. The venue was renamed Monster Hall in honor of her fans, who she regularly refers to as “Little Monsters.” Within hours of her arrival, she put out her first tweet: ‘Thinking of going out in Sydney tonight. How I wish we had a show. NEVERMIND, don’t listen to me. Maybe I’ll just go for a walk in the pARQ.’ So, had Lady Gaga travelled 20 hours for just the one concert?

As the hours ticked by, her many Sydney fans pondered the deeper meaning of her cryptic tweet. By late afternoon, they’d cracked it. Nevermind and Arq are the names of two popular Sydney nightspots. The fans began gathering at these venues from early evening. And then, just past the stroke of midnight, she entered stage right and began singing “Born This Way.” The crowd was ecstatic. Once again the fans had found their Lady Gaga–or was Lady Gaga finding her Sydney audience?

Lady Gaga has a thoroughly sophisticated understanding of direct consumer communication. She came from seemingly nowhere in 2008. (Well, okay, from the nowhere of New York City.) In four short years, she’s become a global phenomenon. Not many others can claim 47 million Facebook fans and more than 18 million Twitter followers. Her vast reach should inspire even the most skeptical of marketers out there.

There is much the corporate world can learn from this 25-year-old diva whose talent for building a brand might even surpass her formidable performing chops. Here are three things businesses should borrow from the woman christened Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta:

1. Connect–and stay connected–to creativity

Have you ever wondered where the idea for Lady Gaga’s meat dress came from? The dress, made out of fresh beef, surprised people across the world. It later went on to be preserved by taxidermists, and is now on display at the Women Who Rock exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Another question to ponder is how Gaga’s scant 1,234 tweets generated millions and millions of fans? The tweets did not in fact come from Lady Gaga herself, but from Haus of Gaga, her behind-the-scenes creative team. This is not a clever exercise in renaming. The Haus of Gaga is made up of individuals who inspire her, pick up on trends, travel with her, and help create her outfits and shows. What they all have in common is that they each have direct access to the performer. The distance from idea to action is merely one conversation away.

Lady Gaga has been quoted as saying that taking away her creative team would be her downfall. It is interesting to note that the downfall of many brands has been exactly that. Steve Jobs made good design synonymous with every Apple product.  It was one of his priorities. As such, it is a well-known fact that Jonathan Ive, the head of design at Apple, reported directly to Steve Jobs. Every creative idea went straight to the top. Sadly, few companies realize how important creativity is for the survival of their brand.

2. Create a direct pipeline to your customer’s soul

Branding powerhouse Lady Gaga’s innovative strategies touch every part of her business–from marketing to social media to pricing her products:

Lady Gaga’s ability to get so very close to her audience and understand their needs, as well as cater to their hopes and musical tastes, is far from a coincidence. One of the secrets of her success can be found in a nondescript van that follows the concert tour, going wherever her team goes.

Most top performers produce their music at recording sessions in discretely luxurious studios. Lady Gaga does things differently. She takes along a mobile recording studio wherever she goes. A recording team, on call 24 hours a day, staffs this mobile studio. As a result, most of the songs she produces are recorded within hours of leaving the stage. She does this to capture the zeitgeist of the moment, tapping into the very DNA of her audience. She steps off the stage fresh with the knowledge of what her audience most passionately responded to. Then, with the applause still ringing in her ears, she steps into the mobile studio and responds to their feedback.

Which should resonate with today’s corporate world. I cannot count the number of times I’ve advised companies to move their research and development centers closer to their customers. Take, for example, a major coffee manufacturer I’ve worked with for years. They were puzzled as to why their newest coffee brand was performing poorly. When I visited their testing facility to sample the product, I was met by a team dressed in white, in a room painted white, and was served the coffee in a white mug. They were anxiously waiting for my opinion.

Sipping on that coffee in such an austere environment was a long way away from far the convivial atmosphere of drinking coffee at home. “So, what do you think?” they asked. My answer was considered as I explained that, despite the product testing well in the lab, it was necessary to take it into the home of the consumer. In that way, I’m sure they would see that the experience would be completely different. This was the broken link. So, we moved the innovation and testing process out of the laboratory and into private homes. They’re now testing coffee in consumers’ kitchens, living rooms, and front porches. Their accuracy of predicting a new coffee product’s success has increased by 60%.

3. Be vulnerable

In contrast to almost every other accomplished performer out there, a major ingredient in Lady Gaga’s success has been her ability to show an authentic vulnerability. She often shares stories about her own life with her fans, or ‘Little Monsters’, as she calls them, and never shies away from revealing her insecurities and listing her many mistakes. The Little Monsters love it. Not only does she manage to mirror her fans’ personal problems, but she also manages to unite them in a tight-knit tribe.

Many years ago, PepsiCo established an innovation lab online. It asked Pepsi fans to sign up, develop new flavors and concepts, and share these with PepsiCo. In order to understand the idea, I was quick to sign up, and share my ideas. I got an instant response: ‘Thank you for your ideas. We will get back to you.’ Six years later, I’m still waiting.

Some companies do, in fact, understand this. They engage their fans in innovation, treat them as stars of the show and, most importantly, get back to them frequently. Take LEGO, the Danish construction toy loved by kids for decades. Now, those kids can build the creature or vehicle or weapon of their dreams, photograph it, and upload it on the LEGO website, where it will be voted and commented on by other young aficionados.

The consumers love it. They feel so much a part of a brand that they are called upon to advise as well as share in the weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It makes everything more human. And that is perhaps the essence behind Lady Gaga’s popularity. She is human. This is a strength that I’d venture to say every great brand once had, but has lost sight of over time. If yours is a company that’s become disconnected from your humanity, perhaps it’s time to channel your inner-Gaga.

Read More

Fast Company: Thou Shalt Covet What Thy Neighbor Covets

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – January 23, 2011

When it comes to the things we buy, what other people think matters. A lot. Here’s how the desires of strangers–inflamed by branders and marketers–mysteriously become our desires, too.

Many of us spend our days–or at least part of them–quietly cursing our fellow human beings. The guy in the Hummer who cuts us off at the intersection. The old woman in the supermarket line counting out pennies one by one. The tourist consulting a map right in front of the subway entrance. They may be annoying, but when all is said and done we actually rely on these people, and others like them, to help dictate our purchasing choices–with more than a little help from companies and marketers, of course.

When it comes to the things we buy, what other people think matters. A lot. Even when those people are complete strangers. One survey, by Opinion Research, shows that “61% of respondents said they had checked online reviews, blogs and other online customer feedback before buying a new product or service,” and a similar 2008 study commissioned by PowerReviews showed that “nearly half of U.S. consumers who shopped online four or more times per year and spent at least $500 said they needed four to seven customer reviews before making a purchase decision.” So persuasive are the opinions of others that while many of us are well aware that roughly 25% of these reviews are fakes written by friends, company staffers, marketers, and so forth, we purposely overlook this. We’d rather not think about that. And, frankly, we don’t seem to care. As the Times of London points out, we are born to believe, in part, because a collective belief helps us to bond with others. In short, we want to trust in these messages, even when we may also be deeply skeptical.

To see just how powerfully complete strangers’ preferences and purchases can sway our decisions, consider the phenomenon of best-seller lists. Best-seller lists work so well in persuading us that they can be found everywhere from, famously, The New York Timeslists of best-selling books to Sephora’s list of best-selling cosmetics to Entertainment Weekly’s Ten Most Popular TV shows to Variety’s list of the ten highest-grossing movies of the week to the Apple iTunes music store’s list of best-selling or recommended singles, albums, movies, and music videos. And on and on–well past the break of dawn.

Let’s talk for a moment about iTunes. Not unlike a Barnes & Noble superstore, the iTunes start page is a chaotic place teeming with choices. Luckily for the overwhelmed shopper, however, these endless offerings are organized into tidy recommended categories like “What We’re Watching,” “What’s Hot,” “What We’re Listening To,” “New and Noteworthy,” and, of course, “Top Songs” and “Top Albums.”

An intriguing study published in the journal Science shows just how well this can work. The researchers invited 27 teenagers to visit a web site where they could sample and download songs for free. Some of the teens were told what songs previous visitors had downloaded, while other teens were not told. Those told what songs their peers had chosen tended to download those very songs.

And part two of the study was even more telling. This time, the teens were divided into eight groups and told only what had been downloaded by people from their own group. The researchers found that not only did the teens tend to choose the songs that had been previously downloaded by members of their groups, but the songs that became “hits” varied across all the groups. The implications were clear: whether or not a song became a “hit” was determined solely by whether it was perceived as already being popular.

But this still doesn’t explain precisely why our buying decisions are so unduly influenced by a brand’s supposed popularity. So the authors of the study decided to use an fMRI to see what was really going on in these impressionable teenagers’ brains when they succumbed to peer pressure. They had 12-17-year-olds rate 15-second clips of songs downloaded from MySpace. Then they revealed to some the songs’ overall popularity. The results showed that when the participants’ own ratings of the music matched up with what they had been told about the song (e.g., if they liked a popular song), there tended to be activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain connected to rewards. When there was a mismatch, however (e.g., the teen liked the song but discovered it was unpopular), areas associated with anxiety lit up. The researchers concluded that “this mismatch anxiety motivates people to switch their choices in the direction of the consensus, suggesting that this is a major force behind conformity observed in music tastes in teenagers.”

Early popularity is so closely tied to a brand or product’s ultimate success that even Hollywood is leveraging the predictive power of the ticket-buying hordes. According to New Scientist, (subscription needed), one of the most widespread new techniques for predicting the box-office performance of a film is by using something called “artificial markets.” On The Hollywood Stock Exchange, for example, movie fans can buy and sell virtual shares in celebrities and in forthcoming or recently released films. This virtual market, which operates with a virtual currency called Hollywood Dollars, uses these predictions to create a stock rating reflecting the aggregate view of each film’s popularity or likely popularity (obviously, people only buy virtual shares in things they expect to be hits) becoming the gold standard in the industry for predicting likely box office receipts, political campaigns and share prices.

Of course, we generally aren’t consciously aware that perceived popularity is driving our preferences. So for my new book Brandwashed, I decided to team up with Murray Hill Center, one of the top focus group companies in the country, in order to find out what we think attracts us to products. “Why do you love Louis Vuitton so much?” we asked 30 women. In answering, each of them began talking about the quality of the zipper, the leather, and finally, the brand’s timelessness. But had we heard the whole truth? To be sure we decided to scan the brains of 16 of them using fMRI to uncover another layer of their answers.

In each case, when the women were shown pictures of Louis Vuitton products, the Brodmann area 10, the region of the brain that’s activated when respondents are observing something they perceive as “cool,” lit up. The women had rationalized their purchases by telling themselves that they liked the brand for its good quality, but their brains knew that they really chose it for its “coolness,” perhaps explaining why we’re all so addicted to those top 10 lists–because deep deep inside we want to be on the top of the cool list.

Read More

TIME Magazine: The Secret Cause of Buyer’s Remorse

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – January 10, 2011

Being able to hold things before we buy them makes us more satisfied with our purchases.

In 2011, many shoppers opted to avoid the frenetic crowds and do their holiday shopping from the comfort of their computer. Sales at online retailers gained by more than 15%, making it the biggest season ever. But people are also returning those purchases at record rates, up 8% from last year.

What went wrong? Is the lingering shadow of the global financial crisis making it harder to accept extravagant indulgences? Or that people shop more impulsively — and therefore make bad decisions — when online? Both arguments are plausible. However there is a third factor: a question of touch. We can love the look but, in an online environment, we cannot feel the quality of a texture, the shape of the fit, the fall of a fold or, for that matter, the weight of an earring. And physically interacting with an object makes you more committed to your purchase.

When my most recent book Brandwashed was released, I teamed up with a local Barnes & Noble to conduct an experiment about the differences between the online and offline shopping experiment. I carefully instructed a group of volunteers to promote my book in two different ways. The first was a fairly hands-off approach. Whenever a customer would inquire about my book, the B&N volunteer would take them over to the shelf and point to it. Out of 20 such requests, six customers proceeded with the purchase.

The second option also involved going over to the shelf but, this time, removing the book and then subtly holding onto it for just an extra moment before placing it in the customer’s hands. Of the 20 people who were handed the book, 13 ended up buying it. Just physically passing the book showed a big difference in sales. Why? We feel something akin to a sense of ownership when we hold things in our hand. That’s why we establish or reestablish connection by greeting strangers and friends with a handshake. In this case, having to then let go of the book after holding it might generate a subtle sense of loss, and motivate us to make the purchase even more.

A recent study conducted by Bangor University together with the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail service also revealed the power of touch, in this case when it came to snail mail. A deeper and longer-lasting impression of a message was formed when delivered in a letter, as opposed to receiving the same message online. FMRIs showed that, on touching the paper, the emotional center of the brain was activated, thus forming a stronger bond. The study also indicated that once touch becomes part of the process, it could translate into a sense of possession. In other words, we simply feel more committed to possess and thus buy an item when we’ve first touched it. This sense of ownership is simply not part of the equation in the online shopping experience.

As the rituals of purchase in the lead-up to Christmas change, not only do we give less thought to the type of gifts we buy for our loved ones but, through our own digital wish lists, we increasingly control what they buy for us. The reality, however, is that no matter how convinced we all are that digital is the way to go, finding real satisfaction will probably take more than a few simple clicks.

Read More

Fast Company: Under-Promise. Over-Deliver. And Your Brand’s Fans Will Talk

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – January 10, 2011

It’s when companies under-promise and over-deliver that people experience memorable moments that will affect their habits for a lifetime.

In a small restaurant in Shinjiku, a suburb of Tokyo, I ordered sake. First, the waitress placed a small wooden box in front of me. Then she arrived with a large tray carrying 40 cups. Each one, she explained, represented a different personality. I chose a blue cup, which she removed from her tray and carefully placed in the box.

As she began to pour the traditional drink into my small blue cup, things took a decidedly unusual turn. I had, as most would guess, expected her to stop below the rim. Instead she continued pouring, the clear liquor overflowing into the wooden box. And then, when most of the cup was submerged, she stopped, smiled, bowed, and said, “Enjoy.”

As I nimbly attempted to fish for the cup, I asked her why she had poured so much. Her answer surprised me. She said, “Martin-san, I do this to show gratitude–to deliver a little bit more than what you expect.”

Do you remember the last time you got more than you expected? Perhaps you were shopping for groceries or even buying something online. Am I right in assuming that, rare as these occasions are, when they happen you don’t forget them? When I was a kid, I was a devoted LEGO builder, collecting box after box. I came to realize that LEGO always placed a few extra bricks inside the box, bricks never accounted for on the list of inventory. Over the years I began to accumulate a secret collection of LEGO’s gifted bricks. Funnily enough, I valued this collection above all others. It took on a kind of sacred quality.

Some years later, I visited the factory and the manager told me that those extra bricks were more a matter of practicality than goodwill. They were included in an attempt to circumvent thousands of requests from distraught parents who had unsuccessfully searched for that missing piece lost under the carpets or beneath the furniture.

Devalued as my collection of special bricks may have been in that childhood moment, what LEGO had inadvertently achieved was to over-deliver and under-promise. And that’s what stuck with me.

These days, we seem to be following a reverse philosophy. We over-promise and under-deliver. Or, at best, we deliver exactly what was promised–nothing more, nothing less. Just think of that pre-packed shrimp salad you bought, where you found that there was not a single shrimp amongst the lettuce, only the four at the top of the plastic container. Or the big bag of potato chips that is more air than chips. In general, we are more familiar with a leaner scenario than we are with excess.

Several years ago, I checked into the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago. I asked the concierge if it was possible to borrow some music CDs. Over the years, I’d grown accustomed to listening to music supplied by other hotels in the Peninsula group. It’s a service they offer to all their regulars. As the hotel was new, the clerk politely informed me that this particular Peninsula had no CD library. Oh, well, so it goes. Yet minutes later, the concierge called to ask me what my favorite music was. Eminem, ABBA, and the Beatles, I replied. I was curious about this, but it slipped my mind as I continued working.

About 20 minutes later, I heard a knock on my door. When I opened it, the concierge handed over a small bag containing three CDs. You guessed it: Eminem, ABBA, and the Beatles. “This is a personal present from us to you,” the concierge said. “Welcome to the Peninsula.”

Now’s let’s pause here for a second. I’ve related this anecdote to hundreds of thousands of people attending my conferences–and to millions who have watched my TV appearances. My guesstimate would be that some 15 million people have heard this story. The cost to the Peninsula? About $22.50.

Needless to say, the Peninsula experience is far from common. However, every time I hear consumers raving about a brand, almost without exception it’s been the result of the brand over-delivering. In a world where promises are routinely ambiguous or broken, when we encounter such service we find it, quite literally, remarkable. Small acts of generosity imbue us with that rare feeling of being cared for or considered by a company. Perhaps, when it comes down to it, we’re still kids falling under the spell of surprise. If it’s better than what we expected–or hoped for–we remember it above all else.

Who knows? Maybe the brand manager responsible for your favorite brand will not only read this article, but will act on it. Don’t get your hopes up–catering to you may cost a few dollars more than what has been budgeted. After all, few people are willing to step outside the plate and eat into the budget that’s already been set aside for things like consultants or social media ads.

Read More

9 Network airs ”Selling Secrets” with Martin Lindstrom


Read More

Fast Company: Trust Me – Here’s Why Brands Sell Trust, Subconsciously

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – December 19, 2011

Evidence points to information from trusted sources getting a better hold on our brains than the noise from everything else. So it’s no surprise that companies want to capitalize on those feelings.

Let’s say that not that long ago you came across a fascinating article. But when you later try to verify some of the facts, you just can’t pinpoint exactly where you first read it. What you do recall is that the source was reliable and you trusted the message. This is a situation I find myself in quite regularly. So much so, that I’ve pondered the conundrum and come up with a theory: we store information according to how trustworthy we deem the source of the message to be.

There’s more to it. Trust isn’t the only criteria we impose on information we receive every day, it’s also linked to the emotional relationship we’ve developed with the source. Take for example your average mother. No one is more familiar with her children than she; nevertheless she still manages to call one adult child by their sibling’s name–undoubtedly the cause of much family mirth. Funnily, as you get a little older, you find your name memory beginning to fade too. You call a close friend by your brother’s name, and so the common misnomer baton moves on to embrace the next generation. You may try to joke your embarrassment away, but have you ever pondered the reasons for this common form of memory stumble?

Many studies demonstrate that trust, above all else, becomes a more salient feature in our life as we grow older. Perhaps it’s because with our accumulated years, we’ve had our fingers burnt–more than once–by trusting the wrong people. Now, older and wiser, we begin categorizing our surroundings based on the level of trust we have developed. There’s our inner circle, consisting of family members and longstanding friends. Our brains deem all those who occupy the inner circle to be trustworthy. Trust first, name second. I believe this to be the reason why I often confuse my best friend’s name with my close cousin.

In a 2010 study conducted by Harvard professor Bharat Anand, and Alezander Rosinski, they examined how the power of ads are influenced by the magazine or newspaper they appear in. By placing the same ad in the respected Economist and perhaps the less respected Huffington Post, they discovered that the more respected the publication, the more people would trust and recall the ad. Above and beyond understanding how the context of the message influences the level of trust we assign it, I wanted to find out to what extent this would influence the speed in which the message is shared and if it leads us to buy more.

Which brings me back to my theory on how we store information according to our levels of trust. I put this theory to the test during the course of a research experiment I conducted for my newest book Brandwashed. A carefully selected Californian family was tasked with spreading brand messages to anyone and everyone in their social circle. The important component of this was that the only means to spread the message was by word-of-mouth. Their home was monitored using 35 hidden cameras over a period of three months.

Everyone involved in the process was asked to send a text message to a central server every time they would think of a brand. By correlating this data with sales figures from all the participating brands, we would begin to understand when and how a word-of-mouth recommendation takes hold. We’d also come to understand the dynamics involved in the message taking hold. ChatThreads, a company that quantifies the impact of consumer brand encounters, was responsible for tracking these particular messages.

We learned that when a person we trust makes a recommendation, we not only follow their advice, but we also convey the trust of the initial communication to others. One leads to the next, and the next, and the next … The message being spread follows a subtle trajectory, but it begins with the belief that the initial source is thoroughly reliable.

One of the most fascinating things that emerged from the Brandwashed experiment was the importance of how the message was transmitted–the words used, the tone of voice adopted, the inflection and enthusiasm conveyed. When these behavioral components come together in the right measure, sales are likely to soar.

But there was one observation that totally surprised me. As part of the experiment we’d asked our test family to adopt an environmentally conscious behavior. To assist them in this endeavor, we brought in experts to advise the family on changing their patterns of consumption. They taught them how to recycle and conserve. We wanted to see if it was possible to effect change amongst hundreds of families’ daily routine by introducing new behaviors at the highest levels of trust–from the experts down. In other words, could a single family’s environmentally conscious behavior set the standard for their social circle and thus create widespread change?

The answer was a clear and resounding “Yes!” Close to 31% of the thousands of people affected by the experimental family changed their recycling and conserving habits.

Combining ChatThreads’ brand tracking data with the sales and observational figures led to a simple key learning: Deep trust is communicated subconsciously. It’s rarely expressed explicitly, nor is imparted loudly or didactically. To trust deeply not only can change our minds, but it has the power to alter our most ingrained behaviors. It’s a subtle emotion that the average commercial message fails to embody. Traditional television and radio ads tend to shout their slogans and persuasive urgings. And although we’re generally conscious of what these ads are pushing, we are more likely to shy away.

I guess I’ve made my case. Now all that remains is the question of whether I’m to be trusted. Undoubtedly, your brain has already made up its mind.

Read More

TIME Magazine: Why the Smell of Cinnamon Makes You Spend Money

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – December 16, 2011

Retailers know how to manipulate all our senses — and that includes our olfactory ones

Every December, you vow it’s not going to happen and yet, without fail, you return home from your Christmas shopping with far more than you intended. Do you ever wonder why? The answer might surprise you, because you’ve probably been seduced by something you can neither see nor hear.

It was a perfectly normal kind of day when I was first struck by that feeling of Christmas in the air, the one that links directly to childhood anticipation of the festive season. The odd thing was that it was early November, yet my need for tangible symbols of the festive season had bitten like a bug. I studiously hit the streets of my neighborhood in search of the perfect tree. I bought decorations and wrote Christmas cards, only to realize that Nov. 5 was a little early to be mailing them.

I was astounded by my behavior. After all, I’m a 41-year-old man who’s long since stopped believing in Santa Claus. So what was it that led me to this neat pile of cards ready to be mailed a good six weeks before Christmas? In my attempt to understand, I went over the details of the days leading up to my own personal Christmas frenzy, and I tracked the origins of it back to a brief window of time as I changed flights in the Zurich airport. I noticed the duty free shops were already full of the colors of Christmas. There was a ginormous tree topped by a gleaming star, surrounded by images of Santa’s and reindeer and sleighs. But surely it would take more than clichéd icons to turn me into a Christmas zombie?

Not having anything else to go on, I investigated further. Turns out I was on the right path, for the truth of the matter was to be found in the mechanisms behind the displays. To be more precise, carefully camouflaged tubes strategically placed amongst the tinsel and glitz were piping in the sumptuous smells of Christmas: a perfect mix of cinnamon and pine.

Although it seemed I’d gotten to the nub of the issue, I was still perplexed. I mean, can a tube dispensing cinnamon and pine really compel me to embrace the Christmas spirit way ahead of time? Surprisingly, yes. Dr. Gemma Calvert, who is an expert in modern brain imaging based in Oxford, England, discovered the remarkable ability smells have to reactivate childhood memories. She exposed a group of volunteers to cinnamon and then viewed their reactions, using an fMRI scanner. As they breathed in the sweet spicy scent, their brains fired up — including the region responsible for authentic emotional engagement. It seems cinnamon is one of the main ingredients associated, over time, with baking and cider-making rituals and can kick-start an emotional journey whenever it wafts our way.

So while it might seem as though retailers are concentrating on everything that delights your eyes and ears, they also might be surreptitiously enticing you to buy more through your nose. And they might not even be doing it in a sneaky manner. This season, Trader Joe’s, Publix, and other supermarkets are prominently displaying heavily-scented “cinnamon brooms” by the check out — large, smelly bunches of twigs to hang inside your home and anoint with cinnamon oil when their pungency starts to fade. At Bed, Bath and Beyond, Home Depot, and other big-box stores, cinnamon-scented pine cones for sale greet you as you walk in the door. Take these items home and you might even get the urge to rush out shopping again. Christmas is in the air — quite literally!

Read More

Fast Company: Why Your Car Is The Next Advertising Battleground

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – December 13, 2011

Those hours you spend driving each day will soon be interrupted with contextual advertising, pointing you to that Starbucks around the corner or the McDonald’s just down the street.

Imagine this: You’re taking the family for a ride in your new Toyota, when you experience something unnerving. As you cruise past the local McDonald’s, the car radio begins playing “Happy Birthday.” There’s more. The lyrics mention your son by name and, eerily, it happens to be his sixth birthday. At the end of the song, McDonald’s offers him a free birthday meal, an offer which will expire in 30 minutes. A notion that was once the province of science fiction has become a reality, at least in Tokyo.

While the latest preoccupation of advertisers is to secure space on smartphones or Facebook, a quieter rush for real estate has begun in the media industry. It’s a type of rush that’s never been seen before; it’s got nothing to do with your online environment, nor does it involve your cell phone. The new battleground is your car.

TV’s lost its grip, with viewers declining and more using DVRs to skip over ads. Newspapers are searching for new revenue models. And as our demand for personal content grows, the space between the doors will become the battleground of the corporate titans. This should come as no surprise given the fact that the average American spends two to three hours a day in their car, making them a captive audience. And with more than 250 million registered passenger cars in the U.S. alone–and a couple of billion cars worldwide–the internal space of our motor car is about to be colonized.

The time is ripe for the next generation of Contextual Branding–the art of sending the right message, to the right audience, at the right time. Japan is unquestionably the leader in this form of advertising. I have a crystal clear memory of my first encounter with it. I was in Tokyo and using a Do-Co-Mo phone when I received a message: “Martin, you have a friend in the area. Would you like to know more?” Naturally, curiosity got the better of me and I responded with a quick “Yes.” Within minutes it got back to me. “Starbucks would like to sponsor your meeting–please accept.” And so I did. A map appeared on my phone directing me to the nearest Starbucks, along with a coupon for a cup of coffee for two. I made my way over and there was a friend who I had not seen in six years. Thanks to Starbucks we reconnected over a cup of coffee, and then another.

Impressive as this story may appear, it’s old news in Japan. They have moved on from messages that rely on coincidences of time and place. They’re working on a future where the media can target potential customers with bull’s-eye accuracy and they’re willing to pay for personal information with hefty discounts.

Let’s revisit the talking Toyota. The story first begins at the point of contact between car dealer and driver. The dealer asked my friend if he would be interested in a substantial discount in exchange for putting some of his personal information on their database. Eager to cut a few thousand yen off the purchase price, he began by giving details of his occupation and income, family size, birthdays of every family member, brand preferences, food preferences, color preferences, and favorite vacation spots. In other words, enough information to address three main data points:

  1. Personal information about the car’s likely passengers
  2. Date, time
  3. Car’s position

This is a powerful cocktail of information. In principle, the car would know when you’re likely to feel hungry as well as what food you’re likely to eat. It will know when you will be buying gifts and at what point you’re most likely to be receptive to commercial messages. And all this will occur during your three hours of driving a day.

The car space is theoretically a virgin space. Almost all the information you receive is passive, no matter where you are, who you are, or what rocks your particular boat. This is a space that industries will fight to gain ownership of in order to convert it into a contextual space. One can only wonder who will win the race: the media industry, the online search industry, or perhaps the telecommunication industry. Toyota, Google, News Limited, or Apple? Will the car industry have the foresight to team up with its competitors to create a propriety navigation system for the vehicles they manufacture? Will Google end up dominating the vacant car space by using its Street View and positioning systems? Will News Limited be able to convince us that news is king, particularly when it’s customized to suit your particular taste? Or are we so attached to our Apple products that we can’t imagine using anything less than its propriety Apple navigation format?

As of now, no one can lay any clear claim on this highly attractive market space. GPS navigation systems are already featuring logos for gas stations, fast food restaurants, and banks. It has only just begun. But as we continue to spend hours a day stuck in a car, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it, but receive commercial messages.

Read More

Harvard Business Review: Shopping Carts Will Track Consumers’ Every Move

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed December 9, 2011

This post is part of the HBR Forum, The Future of Retail.

A couple of months ago, I found myself, of all places, in the research lab of one of the largest shopping cart manufacturers. I had been invited to preview a prototype for the future. It was a whole new area of study for my ongoing investigation into the psychology of brands. Until this visit, I’d never so much as given a thought to the shopping cart’s design. To me, they have looked much the same since forever.

The head of the research lab — I’ll call him Anders — opened his presentation with an interesting fact: the bigger the cart, the more we buy. In fact, if the cart is double the size of our regular one, we buy an astounding 40 percent more than we usually do. It’s not as if we need the extra items, but larger carts tap in to our primordial need to hoard food. We’re still operating with our primitive brain and, ultimately, we’re primed to guard against starvation. Evolutionary speaking, we’re hardwired to store food in times of plenty. So, if our shopping cart looks half-empty, we’ll fill it.

The humble shopping cart made its first appearance in 1937 at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain in Oklahoma City. Two baskets, one above the other, were wheeled around on a simple metal frame. Evermore sophisticated checkout systems allowed retailers to tally each purchase, maintain stock control, and see what was being purchased when.

The new shopping cart that Anders wheeled out looked much the same, except for one small significant detail; each comes with a small computer that can be programmed to understand the shopper’s buying patterns. It reveals the speed of the shopper, how long it takes to make a selection, the preferred route, and the order in which items are placed in the cart.

The mini device, equipped with a GPS, plugs into the supermarket’s mainframe computer, making it possible to pinpoint, within inches, exactly where the shopper is, all the while building up a personal shopping profile. In return for this behavioral data, the shopper is promised specially customized discounts, available only to them. All that’s required is a quick swipe of a loyalty card on a display, positioned beside the shopping cart’s handle. This is bound to change the nature of the regular supermarket shop, because for the first time ever, each customer can be tracked in real time. The consumer profile can be matched with the consumer’s actual behavior, and thus can be matched with the advertising messages most likely to attract the shopper.

So, armed with all this new data, the question is — where should a supermarket shopper’s journey begin? What category will best predispose her hoarding instincts to be sparked? Retailers are looking for their own version of the domino theory. The first product should lead to another, to another, and by the time the shopper’s reached the checkout, she’s bought more than she intended.

For three years, Anders and his team had worked on this project. They studied millions of data points along the shoppers’ path, from barbecue sauces to cat food, back to toilet paper. They’d analyzed walking speeds and times taken from first pause to actual selection. They’d discovered that if the first product they buy seems cheaper than they expected, there was a tendency for the shopper to be more trusting and, thus, purchase more, regardless of the subsequent prices.

One can only assume that mobile technology will be Anders’ next assignment. It’s entirely probable that as smart phones become increasingly integrated into our daily lives, wireless advertising will link directly to the shopping data.

The digitized shopping cart will undoubtedly give rise to a more flexible retail store — one which constantly adapts to the ever-changing moods and trends of the shoppers. That aside, it will also open up entirely new revenue channels: retailers will be able to sell their customer insights to manufacturers, and when online, wireless and in-store shopping carts are linked, it’s entirely likely that each platform will present new advertising opportunities.

As I left the factory, I saw hundreds of shopping carts all lined up to have their mini-computer installed. I couldn’t help but think of the consequences these devices will have on our lives, our privacy, and the future of retailing. After years of retailers trying to second guess the behavior of consumers, now this little black box on the side of the handle will transform the supermarket. It will invade our privacy, or what’s left of it. It will make use of contextual marketing, targeting our already strained hip pocket. Contextual marketing will increase the sell, store revenues will rise, and it is likely to become the most accurate source of consumer insight for manufacturers looking for more effective packaging design, line extensions, and pricing. All this because of a device attached to the simple shopping cart, which somehow doesn’t seem quite as simple any more.


Read More

Fast Company: Online Stores Turn Savvy Shoppers Into Gamblers With Vegas-Style Tactics

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – December 6, 2011

The tactics casinos use to keep players making bets until they leave at a loss are coming to your online shopping experience.

Have you ever made a decision not to buy a product, and then found yourself having a last-minute change of mind? Or have you decided to buy online, taking it as far as the “Buy Now” button–and then changed your mind, left the site, only to receive an email promising an additional 15% discount enticing you to close the deal? If so, you’ve been more than brandwashed.

Let me explain.

Some years ago, I was invited to Las Vegas to witness some behind-the-scenes action at one of the most successful casinos in the world. I was somewhat familiar with the advanced mechanisms of persuasion in operation, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the depth of understanding the casino has on our irrational gaming behavior. This knowledge is well-leveraged, leading the average punter to gamble beyond their original intention.

I learned that slot machines with the highest win rate are always placed opposite the elevators. This is the area of major traffic and, as such, becomes an important display point, helping to retain gamblers on their way out. After all, there’s no better way to hold them than with frequent sounds of jackpot wins.

This is the object of the exercise. First, attract the guest. Then get them to spend as much time as possible inside the casino. Service areas like restrooms and restaurants are all placed at the back, drawing you into the elaborate labyrinth of slot machines and gaming tables. That ensures, as you head for the exit, that your path will be littered by the excited sounds of people winning, thus prompting you to reconsider leaving just as Lady Luck is arriving. They’re betting on you thinking the next win could very well be yours!

One of my greatest surprises was the casino’s No Exit program. It is a simple, yet highly sophisticated program enabling casinos to convert winners on their way out into eleventh-hour profit-generating patrons. At the casino I was visiting, they had a dedicated room for it, indicating the importance they place on this aspect of the business. They referred to the room as the “Last Stop,” and what went on in this room reads like a B-grade movie script.

Sitting in the Last Stop was a young man playing blackjack. Judging by the stack of chips in front of him, he was way ahead of the house. Now, as we all know, each table is scrutinized and filmed by close circuit cameras. And, in a room full of monitors in the bowels of the building, there is a highly skilled team assigned to observe the body language of all those who are winning. They can predict with approximately 90% accuracy which winner is about to leave.

I was soon told that the young man in question was about to leave. This left me puzzled because to my untrained eye it looked like he was still in the process of capitalizing on his winning streak. They pointed to the way he was scratching his left leg. Over the course of three hours, they’d studied him, and it seems every time he scratched his left leg, he’d shortly headed for the washroom. The problem here was that he’d only just been. So those scratches were interpreted as a sign of discomfort, indicating he was ready to move on.

At that point, the No Exit program sprang into action. With not much more than a flick of the button, a glamorous couple joins the table, the seductively dressed woman positioning herself beside our winner. Shortly she begins to engage him, charming him with flattery and wit. Her partner takes a quieter, more polite approach. There’s no reason for the winner to suspect they’re anything other than fellow patrons. The truth of the matter is they’re working for the No Exit team and their aim is to lure the winner into another room to continue playing.

The woman, whom I’ll call Rebecca, convinces the young man that his winning streak is bound to continue if he heads to the roulette table and bets on 36, her lucky number. He’s sold. He stops scratching his leg and, reinvigorated, they head off to place his bet. So far, so good. The next stage is about to kick in.

Shortly after they’re seated, a waiter carrying a tray of colorful cocktails comes to the table. Our winner hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol all night, but succumbs to what Rebecca calls her treat. He starts sipping on a whisky sour. Bingo! They casino has won. They tell me at this stage there’s now a 75% probability that our winner will leave a loser. Sadly, the psychology behind the casino’s maneuvering is not much different to that email offering us a further discount to go and complete our online purchase.

The complex understanding of gambling behavior is now being applied beyond the Las Vegas perimeter. As I point out in my latest book Brandwashed, gambling will soon serve as the primary model for most online shopping sites. Think of eBay, where the countdown puts an urgency on the purchase, or, which puts the pressure on by making one more fabulous offer just as you’re about to close the deal and exit. Then there are sites like QVC, which encourage you to “keep calling even though our lines are busy.” Indirectly, they’re letting you know that this is your last chance to cash in on their latest, most amazing deal.

The bigger question, however, is not how the principles of gambling are being applied to shopping but, rather, are we in fact becoming a nation of gamblers? After my visit to the casino, I’m convinced we’ve only just seen the beginning. Should we bet on it?

Read More

Fast Company: The 3 Best Cheap Marketing Moves Of All Time

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed – November 30, 2011

Is it possible to brand an entire country for less than $200,000? Or, for less than $2,000, can you brand a person so successfully that they create headlines worldwide? Here are three cases of successful, yet cheap marketing stunts.

Some years ago I decided to analyze 50 random TV car commercials. First, I reviewed them and then cut each scene just at the point where the car shows how brilliantly it handles at fast speeds. I’m sure you know just what I’m talking about–the wide-open road in a glamorous location. Out of the 50 commercials I looked at, 48 contained a slight variation of just that scene. I then joined the cut moments together into one mega 90-second commercial. I kid you not: it looked as if it were a single commercial made by a single director using the same cameraman. At the end of the exercise, I looked to see which vehicle stood out amongst them. Sadly, there was not a single one.

Similarly, whenever I watch commercials on the international edition of CNN, I play a game with myself. I call it: “What Country Are They Promoting Now?” I try to guess which nation is being promoted before the answer’s revealed at the end of the ad. Now, I’ve been watching these ads for years and yet, no matter how many times I’ve been exposed to the genre, I still manage to get a good half of them wrong. Yet, now and then, in our world of sameness, a person manages to get an idea for a promotion that stands out enough to spark conversations.

Marketing A Job (And An Island)

You may have noticed this recent campaign. It was a small job ad in the classifieds. It described “The World’s Best Job” and offered an annual salary of $150,000. They were looking for the right person to become the caretaker of an island somewhere off the coast of far north Australia on the Great Barrier Reef–one of the most exotic locations in the world. They placed the ads in a few different places but, within a short time, the media picked it up and it began making headlines on television stations. After all, who could resist imagining themselves in such a dream job?

Within four weeks, the campaign had generated media exposure that was valued at $89 million. And yes, it also appeared on CNN International–although, of course, not in a paid spot. It was a human interest news item that did not cost a single penny.

Marketing A Brand

In my job, I’m exposed to amazing ideas every day–there’s a lot of them out there–although most are killed within seconds of being born. For some strange reason, as the financial crisis deepens and big companies grow bigger, courage seems to be in short supply. Now and then a single idea survives the filter of politics and, let’s be honest, incompetence.

Last year, however, one of those little gems of an idea managed to survive. It came out of Kraft, the mega multinational food company that owns the iconic Australian brand Vegemite. Now, Vegemite is more than just a cultural icon; it is, in fact, part of Australian culture. It’s a salty, yeasty spread that you have to be Australian to love. The question is: how can you address falling sales in a brand that fails to translate beyond a fairly limited market? You change its name! From Sydney to Perth, the hue and cry that ensued when Vegemite suggested the change was deafening. Which brings me back to courage. This was the moment when Kraft showed courage and got the nation to reclaim their beloved Vegemite. Needless to say, the name remained the same.

So, if it’s possible to brand a country for relatively little, and one good idea can energize sales for a beloved but fading brand, what can be done with a person?

Marketing A Person

If I say “meat dress,” I’m pretty sure you’ll know who wore it. Right?

Lady Gaga. Who else? She’s perhaps one of the greatest marketing geniuses of our time. Some might say she’s a natural successor to Madonna. Madonna managed to offend half the western world in the 1980s when she used a cross to simulate masturbation whilst performing her popular song “Like A Virgin.” She then took the Christian imagery one step further in her “Live to Tell” concert tour that saw her being suspended, Christ-like, on a giant illuminated cross. She certainly got the attention (particularly from Pepsi, which pulled their sponsorship). Nevertheless, she created headlines around the world and sent her sales soaring.

Lady Gaga’s cheaper and perhaps safer solution (at least from a sponsorship point of view) was her meat dress. She made headlines when she first wore it to the MTV Video Awards in 2010. She wore it, she said, to prove she is not a piece of meat. Having made her point–and a million headlines–she then put it up for sale for $100,000. An out-there, crazy idea that ignited a storm of horror and amusement but cost her just $2,000. The dress eventually landed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, which paid a taxidermist $6,000 to preserve it.

I’m sure if someone posited any one of these three branding ideas in a corporate setting, they’d be dismissed as ridiculous and fanciful. However, the stunning outcomes of these three fanciful ideas have proved how wrong it would be to dismiss them. Enough for you to see the startling effects and wonder why on earth you did not come up with them.


Read More

NPR interview – T’is the season for shopping

Find out how stores are seducing buyers this season in this eye-opening NPR interview with branding expert Martin Lindstrom

NPR interview – T’is the season for shopping

Transcript here:


‘Tis the season for shopping. Between Black Friday, Cyber Monday, flash sales and sample sales, consumers are bombarded with seemingly great prices and urgent opportunities everywhere they turn. Marketing expert Martin Lindstrom advices companies like McDonald’s or Procter & Gamble, on how to sell. And he joins us to talk about the psychology of sales. Good morning.


WERTHEIMER: Now, let’s start with the big one, Black Friday. I walk in to say, Macy’s, describe how it is engineered to make me shop.

LINDSTROM: I think the most amazing thing happening in Macy’s is the idea of using the tiles you’re walking on as a trigger to make you buy more. So here’s what’s happening. As you walk in, on the tiles you’re actually walking faster, but as soon as you jump into the carpet, you actually slow down.


LINDSTROM: I call it the speed bump zone. And then of course they want to create an amazing atmosphere, and the atmosphere comes down to, in general, using music, the slower beat you play, actually the longer time people spend in the retail store. They also work with the light – well, it’s true, because it basically makes you relax, and that’s what this is all about.

WERTHEIMER: How are consumers responding to this? Do you think they’re on to your tricks and your fancies?

LINDSTROM: Well, most consumers have no idea and feel they are savvy shoppers. But you have to remember when you walk into a retail store, you’re walking straight into the zone of seduction. Everything is engineered to optimize every minute you spend in there. Remember an average woman is spending 25,140 minutes, throughout life, shopping. That’s the same as eight years of shopping, right?


LINDSTROM: It’s depressing, hey? And that really means that if they can increase your time in the retail store with just one or two minutes more, you actually will be shopping more.

WERTHEIMER: So what if you don’t have music and you don’t have the beautiful perfume floating in the air, and you’re sitting in front of your computer at home? Can retailers use any of this knowledge to replicate the excitement of Black Friday, when you’re either ordering by telephone or ordering on computer?

LINDSTROM: Absolutely. And I think the retailers now are understanding that this is all one big game. So if you take a look at Amazon, what they do is they have a clock ticking down, giving you a sense of urgency. And because we all are fundamentally greedy, we would like to get a deal ahead of everyone else, and suddenly this has become a game more about getting the deal, than actually getting the product which is suited for you at the moment.

WERTHEIMER: You know, I have to tell you though, that I think there comes a time in the lives of women, where we begin to think we have enough stuff, and we kind of lose interest. I’m speaking personally, and for myself here, but I think I’m immune to what you’re talking about.

LINDSTROM: Well, I tell you that what’s fascinating here, is that if you go back to Estee Lauder companies and their invention of the lipstick index, you will see that more we are under recession, the more we want to actually buy small items to treat ourselves.

WERTHEIMER: OK. You got me there. You totally got me there.

LINDSTROM: OK. You know, that’s shopping, too. Don’t forget it. It’s not the big price items, always.

WERTHEIMER: So, do you think that in all this frenzy of sales and coupons and games and whatnot, are there really bargains out there?

LINDSTROM: Yes, there is. But the reality is that those bargains are so few that you better your lottery instead, and I think there’s a bigger chance for you to win. You know, at the end of the day, what they would like to do is to create those doorbusters, and the doorbusters are really that amazing offer which is displayed in front of you, and you get that naïve sense that actually you can get that great deal.

But here’s the reality, as you walk into the store and you’re let down, because it happens to be that someone in front of you just grabbed it, you want to compensate for waking up at 12:00 midnight. So what you do? You buy something else. You may even lie about the price. We know that today, 11 percent of all women lie about the value of the ultimate cost.

WERTHEIMER: That cannot be true, surely not.

LINDSTROM: Not at all, right?


LINDSTROM: And then what happens is that our dopamine levels in our brains, which really is a neurotransmitter, released whenever we had that rushy feeling, that has to be compensating something else. And that means we need to buy something.

WERTHEIMER: Martin Lindstrom is the author of “Brand Washed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.” Thank you very much.

LINDSTROM: You’re welcome.

Copyright © 2011 National Public Radio®. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR’s prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Read More

Live Chat with Inc Magazine

Watch live video from Inc. Magazine on

Read More

TIME Magazine: Why Orange Juice is More Expensive on Saturday

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed November 18, 2011

Seasonal price variations are not new but beware of hour-to-hour fluctuations.

A few weeks ago, when I was in Tokyo, I happened upon a camera store selling just what I was looking for, at a price that was simply too good to refuse. However, the more advanced model was also on sale. This left me with a conundrum: to be satisfied with my original choice, or to go one better. I told myself not to be greedy and stuck with my original choice. But it kept niggling at me. So just as soon as I’d finished work the next day, I went back to exchange for the bigger, better version.

Imagine my surprise when I got there and found both cameras had gone up by 10%. Indignantly, I demanded to know why. Politely and patiently the sales staff simply explained: “Time of day, sir.” I took a breath, looked around and noticed crowds of other shoppers stopping by after work before heading home.

Seasonal price variations are not new. We are well aware of peak and off-peak travel times. Families who want to get together around Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving expect to pay top dollar for air tickets. Retailers also know that our price sensitivity varies across the day, week, month and year. Sometimes, we enter a store determined to find a bargain. Other times, like when we’re in a hurry, we couldn’t care less.

But increasingly, the retail world is becoming so sensitive that it can react to — and create — hour to hour price fluctuations on consumer goods. Have you noticed that those traditional printed price tags on the shelves of supermarkets and big-box stores like Costco and Wal-Mart are being replaced by digital pricing displays? You probably assumed this was for the sake of efficiency, which it is in part. But it’s also so that they can respond to shifts in commodities markets — coffee beans, oranges — in a matter of moments. Similarly they are changing their prices to accommodate fluctuations in the store’s traffic. Supermarkets, for example, have peak shopping times. Swing by a store at 6 p.m. and it will be jammed. Stop by at 11 in the morning on a weekday and it will be nearly deserted (except for maybe that elderly couple buying a cantaloupe.) In slow times, prices drop, while in busy times, prices rise.

In Scandinavia, some supermarkets are already switching their prices daily, and across Japan, some are even doing it on an hourly basis. Online merchants have even more sophisticated methods of dynamic pricing: they can use cookies in our browsers to gauge how much we really want something based on how many times we looked at the same item — and raise the price the more interested we seem. (Shopping tip: delete your browser’s cookies or use different browsers.) I can promise you that one thing this trend will lead to is more such strategies: with prices fluctuating like the stock market, shoppers will create all sorts of games out of getting the lowest prices for everyday stuff.

Read More

Fast Company: Generation Y Is Born To Startup

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed November 16, 2011

There’s a fundamental difference between the rebels of the past and today: Generation Y are born entrepreneurs.

Every generation rebels against their parents. When parents approve, their offspring disapproves. Parent says black, adolescent teen says white. Psychologists who are expert in these matters explain that rebellion is a factor in establishing identity. It’s part of the journey of growing up — personalities are taking shape and a sense of self is being nurtured. Even if you haven’t quite worked out what you want, it helps to know what you don’t want.

But the times seem to be a-changing, yet again. Today’s teens are surprisingly in harmony with their parents. They wear the same branded jeans, have similar music in their iTunes library, are happy to accompany one another to a U2 concert, and if you ask them, many will talk about their friendly, supportive relationship.

Our conventional views of rebellion have been summed up in iconic images: think Marlon Brando wearing a leather jacket astride a Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle in ‘The Wild One.’ Or the young couple wrapped in a blanket, standing in the rain and mud at the famous music festival held at Woodstock in 1969. So, what’s going on? Has the rebellious stage bypassed Generation Y and their parents? How will this affect their budding identity? It’s too soon to tell, but there’s one fundamental difference between then and now: Generation Y are born entrepreneurs.


A quick visit to Facebook will show you just how many teens have begun selling products on their pages. A great video goes viral on YouTube, and suddenly kids are inspired to monetize their page and become content developers. Witness how the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations inspired the sale of hundreds of partisan T-shirts on the web–all managed from the comfort of their bedroom clutter.

Every day I’m contacted by at least 100 kids asking for advice on starting their own businesses. This is what I tell them:

You have nothing to lose
You have no mortgage, you have no husband or wife to support. So go for it! Be provocative, share your opinions. In other words, if you produce T-shirts, make them opinionated. No one stands out by being ordinary. The older you get, the more conservative you’ll probably become, so this is the time to test your limits, to see how far you can go. After all, if not now, then when?

Let your courage drive your business
When I was 15 years old, my local television station had serious problems selling television commercial space. So, I contacted them and we did a deal. I proposed producing a range of TV spots with advice to small businesses on how to, well, use TV commercials to boost their businesses. The station had nothing to lose. If nothing else they had a sweet story of a young kid who seemed crazy enough to do something different. We struck a deal and I began working with them and learning about television production and effective communication. Sadly, the station backed out a few months into the deal. By then, however, I’d learned so much that the whole exercise was worth it. You see, as naïve as I was, I had begun to build my own brand.

Here’s my advice: use your innocence, passion, energy, and fearless self. Knock on doors that you might find too uncomfortable to approach when you’re older.

Let others pay for your business
Let’s go back to the t-shirt business and the biggest mistake most entrepreneurs make. They imagine an avalanche of sales and, in their youthful optimism, invest heavily in stock. This results in a pile of stuff no one wants — and a credit card debt that will take months to clear.

Don’t purchase products in advance. Wait until you get the orders, even if it may cause a slight delay. Spend time working on a sorry-I’m-late letter. It’s far more important that you don’t end up with a product that no one wants. Let your customers finance your production.

Over-deliver and under-promise
The future is viral, and your business is 100 percent dependent upon it. If people like your product, they’ll tell their friends. But don’t make the mistake of thinking your great product is good enough. More effort is always required.

In Japan, it’s an old tradition to over-deliver and under-promise. You see it everywhere. Take, for example, when you order sake. First, the waiter will place a wooden box on your table. Inside the box there’s a sake cup. The sake gets poured into the cup, as you would imagine, but it doesn’t stop there. The pouring continues until the cup floats in the overflow. It makes for a challenging drink to sip, but it contains the essence of the over-deliver-under-promise principle.

Have you ever experienced this? If you have, I’m sure you still clearly remember it. Make this your mantra. If someone orders a t-shirt, include a free hat and a nice card. You can be sure that your customer won’t forget it; chances are neither will their friends.

Team up 
Nothing’s worth anything unless you have a good distribution system. A friend of mine sells roses delivered to the door. Another friend sells luxury hams from Italy and exotic mushrooms from Japan. Those that buy the roses might very well be interested in a basket of exotic foodstuffs, whereas those buying the food might be interested in the flowers. One night the penny dropped. Today they share a distribution network cross promoting on another as they go.

A true entrepreneurial spirit is about passion, courage and creative thinking. Believe me, the time for conservative thinking, careful considerations and long-winded planning sessions will arrive eventually. But, before it does, help yourself to the smorgasbord of goodies before it’s too late.


Read More

Fast Company: Dangerously Good-Looking

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed November 7, 2011

With more than 600,000 hacking attempts on Facebook every day, one might be forgiven for asking why we’re so willing to share the intimate details of our everyday lives. Apparently, we have absolutely no trouble doing so, if whatever we see there looks good.

Some years ago one of my friends, a former photographic model, decided to participate in a documentary that set out to study the advantages enjoyed by the more attractive people in our society. Part of the process involved her dressing down, changing her posture, and adopting a surly, scowling demeanor. Her job was to engage others in helping and supporting her in a variety of situations. She would then transform back into her normal impeccable self and attempt to replicate this exercise.

What did she experience? As a dowdy shadow of her usual self, she only managed to enlist 2 out of 15 people to help her. But as soon as her usual gorgeous self re-emerged, 12 out of 15 were more than willing to offer whatever assistance she required. The only difference between the two scenarios was her looks.

An interesting conclusion and, now, a scientifically proven fact. Last week, four scientists from the University of British Columbia published a paper on just how willing we are to open even our most private doors to people of beauty. The Canadian academics used; a site designed to sort the beautiful from the not-so-beautiful people. Then, targeting Facebook, they used the “Hottest” photos when they created 102 robots–or “bots”–whose sole mission was to infiltrate the pages of 5,053 random subscribers to the social media site. Initially, 19% of cases accepted the bots, but when the bots changed tactics and plugged into friend networks, the uptake rose to 59%.

Are we really that fickle? It appears so. As such, we should have no trouble at all imagining an outrageously good-looking woman managing to infiltrate an “enemy” network as in, say, a James Bond scenario. After all, this was the downfall of a disaffected Israeli nuclear technician by the name of Mordechai Vanunu. In 1986, he approached the British press with details of Israel’s nuclear program. Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, immediately sprang into action. They sent a beautiful, blonde woman to seduce him. Before he knew it, he was kidnapped, whisked out of England and taken back to Israel, where he was charged with treason.

Seductive beauty, however, is only part of the story. Our ability to imitate people’s behavior seems to have an equally powerful influence on us. Over the years, a range of studies has shown that we are predisposed to people who imitate our behavior. Take for example, an experiment carried out at Duke University, which involved conducting studies around the globe. The results showed that a person’s trust and likeability increased when their personal gestures, like head movements, arm positions, and seating posture, were correctly mimicked.

Taking this one step further, researchers infiltrated Second Life, the online virtual world where users–or “residents”–interact with one another through avatars. By placing avatars designed to mimic the customer (or resident) in the game’s retail shopping stores, the interaction was firstly extended by several minutes, but they also noticed a significant increase in revenue.

Unpublished preliminary research shows that it doesn’t stop here. In fact, the words and phrases we use subconsciously will affect us if the person we’re dealing with chooses to mirror our speech. In other words, if you tend to use words like “awesome” or “freaking idiot,” and the person you’re communicating does likewise, you’re more likely to think you’re more of one mind and, so, trust levels rise–the sense of camaraderie is established after sharing just a few short words or phrases.

Scientifically, this could be explained by nerve cells called mirror neurons. It’s a phenomenon more commonly termed “monkey see, monkey do.” Think about something as simple as a yawn; one person’s big inhalation of air quickly spreads to the next. Several fMRI studies show that the person observing has a physical sensation of performing the task. This may go some way to explain why watching sports is one of our most enjoyable pastimes. Not only are we observing elite athletes on a field, but we tend to become so involved that we also feel as much a part of the action as those on the field.

The world of perception and persuasion is quite simply far more powerful than we think. Imagine for a moment an avatar bot, designed to be immensely attractive, that imitates your gestures, uses your expressions, and simulates your moves. It’s likely the researchers from Canada would be recording a far greater conversion rate than their already large 59%.

Even though we’re reluctant to admit it, we’re hardwired to be selfish. We tend to be attracted to attractive people, whose beauty might reflect well on us, not to mention the possibility of creating beautiful children. This aspect of human nature will pave the way for sophisticated bots to come into our lives and harvest our personal details–be it our favorite ice-cream flavor or our email address.

Next time someone seriously good-looking asks to be your friend, seriously consider whether you’re willing to accept, or reject. Either way, you stand to lose.

Read More

TIME Magazine: Bringing Up Baby in the Digital Age

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed  November 4, 2011

By age 2, 92% of American children have an online footprint. What does that do to their psyches?

Last year, the Internet security firm AVG reported that 92% of American children have an online footprint before the ripe old age of 2 years old. Their digital presence often begins with their first image — a sonogram — being posted online. Each subsequent shot, from birth to birthday party, is shared on social networks. In fact, 7% are born with a pre-established email address, and a further 5% have a social network profile. On the one hand, this means that you are no longer forced to politely page through proud parents’ photo albums. But what does such visibility from such a young age do to both the kids and their parents?

In order to seek answers to this question, I decided to spend at least 48 hours in the homes of 10 different families. First on my list was Peter, a 10-year-old, who lived with his mother, father and younger sister in a small suburb on the outskirts of Charlotte, N.C. These young parents were so delighted with the prospect of their first child, that they had uploaded the image from Peter’s first sonogram on their own website.

As Peter was showing me around his bedroom, I noticed some small black lines drawn on the back of his bedroom door. They were kind of like the old tallying system — four small vertical lines, crossed by one horizontal. Peter was obviously keeping a record of something. I was curious but not quite prepared for his answer. He patiently explained that each line represented an occasion where he’d been allowed out of the house on his own over the past year. There were only seven lines, and it appeared that the most recent outing was already two months old.

As I dug deeper, I realized that Peter’s parents were not afraid of him running away. Nor were they afraid of him falling outside and hurting himself. Rather, having lost all sense of privacy and sure that every move of Peter’s could be tracked, their primary fear was abduction. And as a result of their concern about the dangers of the outside world, they’d focused on making the world inside their home as entertaining as possible. Peter had free access to his computer and every kind of game — there was a Gameboy, a Wii, an NDS as well as a library full of DVDs. This was not a world exclusive to a boy and his toys; Peter was welcome to have friends over to play as often as he wished.

Two days later I moved on, joining Michael and his family in Louisville, Ky. The story was somewhat similar but, in this case, the invasion of privacy — and the attendant dangers — had moved indoors. Michael had built a Lego castle in the corner of his bedroom, and he was happy to guide me through the design. As he pointed to the perimeter, he explained, “Here’s the first wall protecting me and my family.” He went on, talking me through the second wall, the third wall and finally the fourth. At the very center of this walled bastion was a small bedroom. “This is where I live,” he casually stated. Cameras, microphones and a few guards were positioned around the room. I was a somewhat taken aback when I noticed there was no inside handles on his door. In other words, he could only leave his room if someone opened the door from the outside. One of his direct contacts with the outside world could possibly be via the email address his parents had set up for him before he was born, or his Facebook account, which is extremely active.

Over the next month, as I visited home after home, I realized how dramatically different life had become since I was a 10-year-old. I grew up on the suburban streets of Denmark, mingling with all the other neighborhood children. It’s hard to imagine what courage it took for my parents to allow me, as an 8-year-old, to walk to school alone. What were they thinking when I turned 15 and they let me borrow their boat to go ocean sailing with my two best friends?

But in a strange twist to this tale, if my parents had been asked to share images of me that would give shape to something called my digital footprint — pictures of me in the womb or taking my first steps or smiling my first smile — I’m pretty sure they’d have rolled their eyes and thought, “Is this person mad?” Fast-forwarding to 2011, I am pretty certain that parents of today would be equally aghast if their neighbor’s child was allowed to walk to school or sail the seas alone. They would undoubtedly roll their eyes and possibly say to one another, “Are they mad?” But I’m not entirely sure which family would be right.

Read More

TIME Magazine: Monkey See, Monkey Buy

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed Oct 21,2011

Peer pressure has never had such a powerful impact on your purchasing decisions. Soon we’ll be able to follow more than our friends’ latest escapades on our favorite social networking site. Facebook has announced new look-at-me-looking-at-you feature (they call it “frictionless sharing”) that will allow you to see what others are watching, hear what they’re listening to and check out what they’re reading, in real time, making consumer behavior more visible than ever before. And if you think that knowing what your friends are consuming will have no impact on you, think again.

We might be hesitant to admit the degree to which others influence us, but we most certainly are all influenced. We need only look at the number of lists and recommendations that are the first thing you encounter on any e-commerce site, which make us think that a team of experts has spent the past month parsing through every book, movie, song and testing every coffee maker, handbag and diaper pail, when in fact the only function of all these recommendations and lists is to get you to buy more. And even though most of us are aware that some of those online product reviews are fakes written by friends or company employees or marketers, we purposely overlook this. We want to trust these messages, even when we may be deeply skeptical.

To gain further insight into the degree to how suggestible we are, I managed to convince a local restaurant to conduct a small experiment on my behalf. Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with waiters regarding how people order, and almost invariably, at least one diner withholds their menu selection until they’ve heard what everyone else at the table will be eating. What’s more, waiters are quite adept at altering orders to accommodate diners who change their minds after hearing what someone else is having.

This is a restaurant scenario I’m sure you’re well familiar with. However, what I really wanted to see was to what extent one table’s dissatisfaction would influence another’s. So we set up a table in the middle of the restaurant, and four actors were hired to pretend to be friends sharing the conviviality of a meal. They all ordered the soup, since it was the only starter on the menu, thus allowing an element of control. After breaking some bread and taking his first mouthful, one of the actors called for the waiter and proceeded to deliver a three-minute rant about the scalding temperature of the soup. As the soup continued to be served to the other tables, the complaints began rolling in. By the end of the dinner, 26% of the guests had made similar complaints. Each bowl had come from the same pot, so either they had extremely sensitive tongues or they had all been influenced by the initial complaint.

In another experiment conducted in 2008 by researchers at Leeds University, 200 people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall. A few moments into the experiment, five volunteers were instructed to move in a clockwise direction. They were told to do so without making any announcements or drawing attention to themselves. Within seven minutes, everyone was walking in the same direction. One of the conclusions drawn by the scientists was, like animals, humans tend to flock. And during times of insecurity, our need to seek refuge in the larger group is that much greater.

Which leads me back to Facebook’s latest look-at-me-looking-at-you initiative, which might prove to become the most powerful marketing mechanism of the 21st century by enabling Facebook to systematically pick out which members exert the most influence on others. Imagine movie studios, magazine publishers and fashion outlets having access to this information and creating mass demand by using small, highly influential groups. In the end, who’s influencing who?

Read More

Fast Company: Remodel Your Meetings To Create Internal Entrepreneurs

By Martin Lindstrom Wed Oct 26, 2011

 Imagine going to work on a Monday, only to find that everything in your work environment changed overnight. The corporate reception area is gone, along with the receptionist, who could barely be bothered to acknowledge the likes of you, anyway. The corporate vision and “Have A Great Day” signs are down, and the surly security guard is nowhere in sight.


As you make your way upstairs, you are greeted by the directors of the company–people you know only by their appearance in corporate videos and their profile pictures in the company’s annual report. Miraculously, they greet you by name and warmly invite you to attend a brainstorming session, explaining, “We need to get things back on track.” This is completely from left-field, considering they’ve never so much as nodded to you before.


An invitation to suggest change is an anathema. After all, you’ve become accustomed to your ideas and suggestions being rebuffed. How many times you’ve been dismissed with, “Aw, we tried that three years ago, and it never worked,” or “Legal tells us that we can’t do it,” or “That will take at least 18 months to secure an approval.” But at this very moment, every obstacle you’ve encountered over the years seems to slip away. I forgot to mention that legal, compliance, human resources and operations have, overnight, changed their attitude, too. Suddenly they’re responding with bouquets of optimism and positivity; “That sounds exciting, let’s investigate the possibilities,” and “Fascinating concept, so let’s see what the design team can come up with.”


In less than two hours, everything is radically transformed. Each new idea is nurtured, explored and tested rather than flatly rejected with one negative cliché after another. The glass is suddenly perceived as half-full rather than relegated to its usual half-empty status. As instructed, BlackBerrys and iPhones are turned off. No-one is receiving or sending messages. There are no emails. The focus is absolute. Good ideas are immediately locked in. People claim responsibility for tasks. Small groups are formed to set plans in motion. Deadlines are set for the next month, as opposed to the next year. After the meeting, everyone leaves with a one-page summary of all the decisions.


Just as you’re about to leave the meeting, your alarm goes off. It’s 6.30 a.m., and you feel swamped with disappointment when you realise it was just one big delightful dream.


But why should it be that way? Why can’t big corporations become entrepreneurial? Given the fact that it’s these very big corporations that are often wounded by entrepreneurial start-ups, it really is time for them to look more carefully at the way corporations become rigid and stymied by their own entrenched culture. As Gene Hackman said to Will Smith in the spy thriller Enemy of the State, “Turn the strength of the enemy into their weakness. If they’re big, they’re inflexible.”


This is what entrepreneurial means to me: fast, furious, impulsive, courageous, bold, aligned, as little bureaucracy as possible and a general sense that you can walk on water.


Let’s spend five minutes making your company entrepreneurial. First things first: line up all the obstacles that present themselves on a daily basis–the restrictions, barriers, problems and complications. Then, beside each point, describe the scenario from a start-up’s perspective. Bear in mind that committees rarely come up with great ideas and breakthrough concepts. So, why have them?


The first thing I do during the course of my change-agent work for Fortune 100 companies is to establish the 4:30 rule. The maximum number of people in any meeting should be four, and meetings should never last any longer than 30 minutes. No phones allowed. You may think this a little radical but, if you want to act entrepreneurial, then these are the most important steps to take.


Then demonstrate real courage (as opposed to the sort of courage written about in your vision statement). Be prepared to offend. Every environment that values transparency will have its detractors and those who will always take offense. Some of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time are predisposed to ruffling a few feathers–think Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Group. By this I mean making decisions that are so bold that people can’t stop talking about them, so courageous that you become afraid of the competition getting a hold of the information, and so outrageous that you don’t need to invest millions promoting them because they tend to promote themselves.


But here’s probably the most surprising element of all: Don’t give yourself too much time. I am regularly heard saying that we can change everything in 48 hours. “Impossible”, “ridiculous”, “outrageous” are but some of the usual responses I receive, but what’s really surprising is that it is entirely possible. If you’re able to get the right people into one room over two days, the stage is set. Make sure the room is far from the office and prep everyone on the notion that it’s essential to not only come up with ideas for change, but actually lock them in by the end of the second day. If the incentive is great enough, and everyone’s prepared to roll up their sleeves, in my experience, it will happen.


Corporate America once set the standard for the world. It represented boldness, innovation, and courage, but more recently its energy appears to be flagging. That doesn’t mean it’s lost. It just means that companies will need to look for the ingredients that served to form its foundations. They will need to re-establish the pillars that made it all possible and then fuel it with resources that have perhaps lain dormant for a while. Another dream scenario? Not necessarily, it’s up to you. You already have everything you need to make it a reality.


What’s your experience with this? I’d love to hear what worked for you and, of course, what didn’t.


Read More

What Your Supermarket Knows About You

By Martin Lindstrom: Marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed Oct 21,2011

As the recession lurches on, retailers have adjusted their marketing tactics to appeal to your hoarding instinct

The global financial crisis of 2009 hit consumers hard. Two years later, and they’re still reeling. Spending is down across the board, and even the more affluent are watching their pennies. In this fearful climate, retailers are applying ever more scientific and psychological tactics to lure them back. This was made clear to me on a memorable day in 2010 when I visited the laboratory outside of Chicago of one of the world’s largest consumer goods manufacturers.

After driving for nearly two hours, I reached my destination: a huge, imposing warehouse, with no outward signage, and a vast parking lot full of cars. A friendly receptionist checked my identity, had me sign all sorts of paperwork, and directed me through a door labeled Control Room. It was massive, and resembled images I’ve seen of NASA’s operations area — row upon row of people staring intently at hundreds of screens, only they were monitoring shoppers pushing carts around the aisles of a supermarket that had been designed to test their responses to different marketing strategies. “Take a careful look at this lady,” said one of the monitors, pointing to a middle-aged woman on the screen. “She’s about to enter our latest speed-bump area. It’s designed to have her spend 45 seconds longer in this section, which can increase her average spend by as much as 73%. I call it the zone of seduction.”

This particular section of the market was different from the usual aisle. For a start, it had different floor tiles — a type of parquetry imparting a sense of quality. And instead of the cart gliding imperceptibly across nondescript linoleum, it made a clickety-clack sound, causing the shopper to instinctively slow down. The shopper’s speed was displayed at the top of the screen, and as soon as she entered the zone, her pace noticeably slowed. She began looking at a tall tower of Campbell’s soup, and then plucked a can off the top. Bingo! The sign in front of the display read: “1.95. Maximum three cans per customer.” Before the shopper slowly sauntered off, she had carefully selected three cans for her cart.

Sophisticated as we may be, there’s no getting away from our more primitive survival technique of hoarding food to see us through lean times. So when we come across a deal that appeals to this ancient instinct, dopamine is released in our brain, giving us an instant rush of pleasure. My guide explained the exercise: “Yesterday we ran exactly the same offer, with two distinct differences. There was a dollar sign in front of the price, and no ‘Maximum 3 cans per customer’ line. We also gave the shoppers smaller-sized carts and changed the floor tiles.” These seemingly small changes translated into big differences. On the first day of the experiment, only 1 in 103 purchased Campbell’s soup. Today, however, it seemed that 1 in every 14 succumbed — a sevenfold increase.

Over several months of experimenting with signage, the team noticed that using a dollar sign in front of the price decreases our likelihood of making the purchase. The dollar sign is a symbol of cost, rather than gain. Removing the sign helps the consumer sidestep the harsh reality of outstanding bills and longer-term financial concerns. No doubt the larger cart and the changed floor tiles also played their part, but what was most surprising was our need to hoard. The dictum allowing only three cans per customer that sealed the deal.

The next time you go grocery shopping, take a look at the signs, the type of floor, and even the carts. Everything has been designed with an eye towards getting you to grab those three cans of something that was not on your list. The more attention you pay to the details, the more aware you’ll become of how you’re being manipulated. One thing is for certain; whoever made those three cans will be watching you just as closely.

Read More

Cat Stroking, Not Facebook Poking, Satisfies Needs For Interaction

By Martin Lindstrom Wednesday October 19th 2011

Forget poking on Facebook or IMing people, shaking a hand or putting an arm on someone else’s shoulder is where social interaction really begins. In Japan, this need for touch has extended to a focus on pets, including cafes for petting cats. Will emphasizing touch be a new trend in the U.S.?

As I made my way up a narrow staircase in Tokyo, I wondered what on earth I was actually doing. A few weeks earlier, a friend of a friend had mentioned cat cafés, a new phenomenon sweeping through Japan. The cat café at the top of the stairs promised an unforgettable lunch, while simultaneously extending human life by years. Although I’d hardly consider myself a cat person, I found the temptation of longevity irresistible.

Japan has long been obsessed with pets. It was here where you could first take your dog or cat for a pedicure or a spa. Shortly after, gift shops for pets sprung up, followed by restaurants dedicated to feeding your pet specially prepared delicacies. The animals would be seated, whilst their human caregivers would be left outside. No joke. There are many a funeral home and cemetery for cats and dogs. And now this: cat cafe

Gallery of scenes from Japan’s Cat Cafe

In the finest Japanese tradition, I was asked to perform one of those cleaning rituals that would put sanitary procedures at your average hospital to shame. Once cleansed, I was led to the education room, where I was instructed on correct behavior. Now enlightened, I was ushered into a large room with a café bar in the corner, and hundreds of cats. They were curled up on the floor, reclining on armchairs and sofas and padding around the room.

I was not alone. Many people were there, their focus directed exclusively to one cat or another. They held them on their laps, sat beside them, stroked, patted, and murmured sweet nothings in their ears. All the while, the cats purred the deep purrs of creatures entirely satisfied with their lots in life. After a cup of coffee and brief interactions with three separate cats, my time was up, and I could now say I’d had the full cat café experience.

The more affluent, time-poor, and lonely a society becomes, the greater the need for pets. Not too long ago, I was taken to a home for elderly Japanese people. At first glance, I noticed people sitting quietly stroking their little dogs. I was amused that the dogs all looked remarkably similar. My amusement turned to astonishment when the staff explained that the pets were actually robots disguised as fluffy, white poodles.

Japanese research has shown that the more time we spend touching pets, the longer we live. So, with the help of a government grant, many such homes in Japan have invested in expensive robotic pets that breathe, snore, shrug, yelp, and indeed respond to their owner with sounds of recognition when they see them.

Will this somewhat crazy, yet undeniably thought-provoking, trend be confined to Japan? Or will it find a place in the Western world? France is a possibility. It’s a nation that has always celebrated dogs. I will never forget an incident that occurred at a 2-star Michelin restaurant in Paris. There, at the table beside me, was a dog sitting on a chair, facing its owner. It ate from a fine china plate, and drank what looked like red wine from a bowl on the table.

I suspect that the U.S. might be next in line, simply because we’re a nation increasingly deprived of meaningful physical interaction. “That’s ridiculous,” you might say. But think about it: Apart from the perfunctory handshake, when was the last time you touched another person? We touch our iPads and Pods, our fingers fly over our BlackBerrys and fold over our mouse, but as for touching humans, well, that’s another story entirely. It’s not our way.

If you’ve ever visited countries like Spain, Italy, and Turkey, you’ll soon notice boys, men, and even the elderly, touch hands with one another as they saunter along the street. At presentations I’ve conducted in Thailand and the Philippines, it’s quite common for businessmen to drape an arm over the shoulder of the man beside them. I’m talking a normal working situation, not an Asian version of a gay Mardi Gras.

We, on the other hand, like to touch before we buy. We test an avocado’s ripeness by giving it a gentle squeeze, and finger the texture of the fabric before we try on an outfit. But when it comes to touching one another, we tend to shy away.

Which brings me back to the U.S. During the course of my workshops I have a tendency to gently rest a hand on someone’s shoulders when addressing them directly. They often come to me at the close of the day to express their satisfaction. They say, “I’ll never forget your presentation. It felt like we established a really clear understanding of one another.” I explain that touch helps facilitate this, and then ask why they don’t initiate similar physical connections. Their answers rarely surprise me as they talk of their fear of what others may think. They don’t want to offend anyone and are afraid of breaking unspoken codes of behavior. Some go so far as to express their fear of a potential lawsuit.

As we well know, animals cannot sue. You also never look stupid or inappropriate petting a dog or a cat. So, when we do, it satisfies our basic need for touch. It wakens us to life and living beings and can conjure up warm memories of deep connection with our childhood pets.

Here’s my prediction: As our social lives migrate online, so our need for touch offline will become more apparent. We have two choices–we can either normalize touching one another in the same way Italian, Brazilian, Thai, and Spanish people have been doing for hundreds of years, or another commercial industry will find itself in our lives. Make no mistake, the need for touch is hardwired into our being and if we don’t get our share, there’ll be an influx of pet cafés, pet gift shops, pet outfitters, and pet podiatrists. On the one hand, it’s adorable, fascinating, and appealing. On the other, it’s the expression of a desperate human need for touch and connection in our increasingly disconnected lives.

Read More

Fast Company: 10 Points Business Leaders Can Learn From Steve Jobs

By Martin Lindstrom Tue Oct 11, 2011

Steve Jobs was one of the best business strategists of our time. So what lessons can we take from Apple’s moves over the years?

Before speaking at a conference last year, I received a rather unusual instruction. It said, “Dear speaker, we urge you to avoid any references to Apple, but if absolutely necessary, please keep them to a minimum.” Surprised by the request, I raised it with the conference organiser. Her reply took me aback. She explained, “Every speaker these days refers to Apple. They cite Apple case studies and constantly quote Steve Jobs. If we were to allow every speaker free rein to talk about Apple, we might as well rename our events ‘Apple this’ or ‘Apple that’.”

I have since come to appreciate her problem. At almost every conference I’ve since attended, 9 out of 10 speakers cite Apple. Of course, the brand didn’t achieve such universal reverence without reason. So … let the following advice, inspired by Steve Jobs, form the blueprint for any company with serious brand ambitions.

  1. What industry category do you operate within? Break out of it.
    If you had to choose one option, what industry would you say Apple operates within? Computers, music, telephones, or retailing? In terms of revenue, the answer is phones. However, the name Apple first came to be associated with computers. When Apple released the iPod, Walt Mossberg, a product reviewer for the Wall Street Journal, interviewed Steve Jobs. Mossberg spoke to Jobs about his reasons for venturing into the music industry. Jobs explained that Apple is a digital products company, not simply a computer company.Had Apple defined itself as a computer company, it would wave goodbye to 2/3 of its current revenue. Is this where your company is heading today?
  2. “When you reach for the stars, you might not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud, either.”
    So said the legendary advertising man Leo Burnett, although Steve Jobs could just as well have uttered these words. When attending a board meeting of what shall remain an unnamed Fortune 100 company, the chief of innovation announced 31 new revisions to their existing product portfolio. After his presentation, I asked him which of his announcements he felt best represented his iPad moment. “Two perhaps,” he replied. Wrong answer. There’s only room for one. Neither you, your company, nor the world has patience for 31 tweaks these days.Will your next product release represent your iPad moment? If not, go back to the drawing board.
  3. Even if you predict the future just one minute before it happens, you’re still in good time.
    I’ll never forget the Macromedia conference I attended in San Francisco during the late 1990s. Steve Jobs made a surprise visit on stage. That was the moment he threw the new Apple Newton message pad into the iconic Apple bin on stage. Apple was too early in the game and once the game began, they were too late. This was a lesson Steve Jobs learned the hard way. The Walkman came before the iPod, Microsoft’s tablet arrived before the iPad, and the Blackberry arrived before the iPhone–though Apple’s impeccable timing managed to beat them all.Being first isn’t necessarily best–understanding timing is the essence of a breakthrough.
  4. “What do you want the stores to say to people when they walk in?”
    In my new book, Brandwashed, I quote the question Steve Jobs put to Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, when he was asked for advice on the redesign of Disney’s retail stores.If your storefront, product, service, website, store fit-out could talk to the customer, what would it say?
  5. Identify and attack your enemy in public.
    When Apple’s iTunes program was already well ensconced on millions of PCs, Steve Jobs was asked what it was like to be a major Windows developer. He replied without hesitation, “It’s like handing a glass of ice water to someone in Hell.” Jobs never shied away from pointing out Apple’s number #1 enemy in public. CEOs could learn from this.Often behaviour that’s too self-consciously politically correct can lead to a watered-down focus and profile, both internally and externally. An enemy can define who you are, and who you’re not.
  6. Don’t read about your competitors to learn more–visit them.
    However, it is probably a good idea to conduct such a visit before they’ve become your competitor. During Steve Jobs’s early days in the business, he did, in fact, pay a visit Sony. He wanted to learn about the Walkman, as well as get a sense of Sony’s well-oiled operation. Jobs was heavily inspired by both. Indeed, many companies can boast of Jobs visiting them in the past–providing Apple with inspiration.When did you last pay a visit to a potential competitor?
  7. Don’t take your success for granted–reset your watch every time.
    I’ve always been amazed by how some of the world’s most successful organizations continue to work as tirelessly as they did when they first began. For example, take the rock group U2. Their most recent promotional tour was as intensive as the first one they embarked on 15 years ago, impressing even the most jaded rock journalists both then and now. Steve Jobs’s unwavering enthusiasm for Apple was the same. Walt Mossberg recalls first seeing the iPad at Jobs’s home, because, as Mossberg explained, “He was too ill at the time to go to the office.”Act entrepreneurial. Assume you have no equity–fight as hard for your product as you did the very first time you promoted it.
  8. Every company should learn from their own mistakes and success stories.
    In reality, all companies experience a regular turnover in staff. So, the filing of experiences and the internal education often fail to capture invaluable knowledge for future reference. Apple managed to circumvent this by entrusting their HR department to employ academics and historians to document events (both good and bad), publish internal papers, and systematize the transfer of information to new Apple employees.Have you systematically captured and transferred the good and bad experiences within your organisation?
  9. Make your brand sticky.
    Gillette is the master of the “sticky” brand. Once you buy a Gillette razor, you are forced to buy Gillette’s blades. Similarly, once you’ve installed Windows on your PC, it’s almost impossible to avoid installing Office. True, you can buy an iPod shuffle for not much more than $100 but, beware, this is just the beginning–the chances are you’ll soon be buying anything and everything that starts with a small “i.”Have you made your product or service sticky?
  10. Treat your brand as a religion.
    If you’ve read any of my books or articles, you’ll know all about my obsession with the parallels between religion and brands. This connection was something I first discovered as part of the $7 million fMRI studies I conducted for my book Buyology.Most of the world’s most influential religions represent several, if not all, of these foundational pillars: a powerful vision, sensory appeal, storytelling, grandeur, symbols, mystery, rituals, enemies, a sense of belonging, and evangelism. As I have come to learn, Apple is no exception.

How many of those 10 boxes can your brand tick?

Read More

Facebook’s 880 Pages About You!

By Martin Lindstrom Fri Sep 30, 2011

The social network is watching your every move, and your friends. And while it isn’t as nefarious as Big Brother, do we really want our profiles to become another marketing space?

Imagine arriving home to find a package on your doorstep. Is it a surprise gift? Chocolates or something similar? Instead, you find a wad of documents, covered in single-spaced small type. As the thrill of surprise rapidly disappears, you realize that these pages are all about you. More particularly, all about your life as it exists on Facebook. Every friend you’ve made–and every friend you’ve deleted–is there. So is every event you’ve been invited to and invitations you’ve accepted. There are the log-in details of the many locations where you’ve accessed your Facebook account, as well as a list of who you’ve “poked” and everyone who’s ever poked you. All this information is covered in the first 50 pages. This is not some random, futuristic scenario. Sadly, it is a present-day reality.

The United Kingdom is one of the first countries to introduce a law enabling social media-users to access their historical data captured by sites like Facebook. All information is required to be supplied to the user on a CD within 40 days. Needless to say, within hours of the law being passed, Facebook was inundated with thousands of requests. It is hard to see how they will be able to comply with the “40 days” requirement.

The fact is Facebook has more than 800 million active users. More than 50% log on in any given day. Furthermore, the average user has 130 friends. More than 2 billion posts are “liked” and commented on each day. With this kind of access to personal information, Facebook probably knows a whole lot more about the citizens of the world than the CIA, MI5, and the Kremlin put together. The potential of this enormous wealth of data being used for commercial gain is shockingly close and downright scary.

Besides having a window into your private and personal world, social media networks like Google+ and Gmail take this one step further. Both are free sites–they don’t require one penny to use. But, as we know, nothing is truly for nothing. To compensate for the free gigabytes, you pay by providing the site with personal information substantially more valuable than what they’re giving away.

One of the most valuable areas of insight that can be determined from this linked data is patterns of influence. These 880 pages contain details about how you interact with friends, family, relatives, neighbours, employers, and colleagues. Accurate information can be gleaned about your ability to influence, and be influenced by, everyone around you.

Let’s say that an advertiser posts an ad for a trip to Nice on your site. It is not coincidental that this ad appears because, over the past few winter months, you’ve been posting messages in which you’ve fantasized about the warmth of that Mediterranean city. The system is able to distinguish the place from the word “nice,” and contextualise your longing for travel and a potential holiday in Nice. “Well,” you could say, “fair enough. This is how Gmail generates income.” But what if I were to tell you that it’s also possible to monitor how the ad placed on your Gmail account affects everyone you’ve had Nice discussions with. How would you feel about being tagged as a “premium influencer” because people appear to listen to what you say, as well as act upon it?

Recently, Facebook added a 24/7 monitoring service that allows to allow Facebook to tell friends what you’re watching, listening to, and reading as you consume it–a kind of “look at me, look at you” system, where we can all keep an eye on each other, follow one another and, of course, influence and be influenced. At first glance, it may appear to be innocent, but there is certainly a more sinister aspect that could come into play. In an experiment I describe in my new book, Brandwashed, 200 people were asked to walk randomly around in a large hall. A few moments into the experiment, five volunteers were instructed to move in a clockwise direction. They were told to do so without making any announcements or drawing attention to themselves. Within seven minutes, everyone was walking in the same direction.

Whether we care to admit it, we’re all deeply influenced by each other, which leads me to Facebook’s brilliant new initiative. Even though many might find it fascinating to observe what our friends are watching, reading or listening to, it may in fact prove to be the most powerful marketing mechanism of the 21st century. It will enable Facebook to systematically select those 5% who tend to lead in every trend: from movies, to fashion accessories, to snack bars, to radio stations. You get the point. Imagine movie studios, magazine publishers, and fashion outlets having access to this information. All product releases will become known for one simple thing: creating mass demand by planting information among small, highly influential groups.

Last year, I decided to get a sense for what Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Apple aficionados (and detractors) say about all this. I was predominantly interested in their concerns about privacy. When I told them that their beloved iPhone was sending data back to Apple about their current location, they were surprised. They were even more surprised to learn that people are rated according to their influence, and every message sent and received by Gmail was analysed for potential advertisers. What surprised me was how nonchalant they were about this clear invasion of their privacy. They weren’t exactly happy about it, but they were generally accepting of it as simply the way things are.

I’m a marketing man, I admit, but I’m also a consumer. Perhaps, as a consumer, it’s time to draw a line in the sand. Companies should consider sharing what they know about us up front. There should be no need for anyone to have to go through official channels to learn what a company knows about them.

Like most, I enjoy freedom of speech, the protection of privacy laws and the misguided notion that manipulation and control only exist in unenlightened countries (and books like George Orwell’s 1984). Herein lies the irony. Within 200 yards of the London flat where Orwell wrote his dystopian classic, 32 closed-circuit cameras monitor the streets. It seems like we’re certainly heading back to the future, only this time it’s for real!

Read More

Today Show Money: Do retailers have you Brandwashed?

Read More

New York Times: You Love Your iPhone. Literally.

Published: September 30, 2011

With Apple widely expected to release its i-phone 5 on Tuesday, Apple addicts across the world are getting ready for their latest fix. But should we really characterize the intense consumer devotion to the iPhone as an addiction? A recent experiment that I carried out using neuroimaging technology suggests that drug-related terms like “addiction” and “fix” aren’t as scientifically accurate as a word we use to describe our most cherished personal relationships. That word is “love.”
As a branding consultant, I have followed Apple from its early days as a cult brand to its position today as one of the most valuable, widely admired companies on earth. A few years back, I conducted an experiment to examine the similarities between some the world’s strongest brands and the world’s greatest religions. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests, my team looked at subjects’ brain activity as they viewed consumer images involving brands like Apple and Harley-Davidson and religious images like rosary beads and a photo of the pope. We found that the brain activity was uncannily similar when viewing both types of imagery.

This past summer, I gathered a group of 20 babies between the ages of 14 and 20 months. I handed each one a BlackBerry. No sooner had the babies grasped the phones than they swiped their little fingers across the screens as if they were iPhones, seemingly expecting the screens to come to life. It appears that a whole new generation is being primed to navigate the world of electronics in a ritualized, Apple-approved way.

Friends who have accidentally left home without their iPhones tell me they feel stressed-out, cut off and somehow un-whole. That sounds a lot like separation anxiety to me. Not long ago, I headed an effort to identify the 10 most powerful, affecting sounds in the world: I found that a vibrating phone came in third, behind only the Intel chime and the sound of a baby giggling. Phantom vibration syndrome is the term I use to describe our habit of scrambling for a cellphone we feel rippling in our pocket, only to find out we are mistaken. Similar to pressing an elevator button repeatedly in the belief that the elevator will descend sooner, we check our phones for e-mails and texts countless times a day, almost as if we can will others to text, call, e-mail or Skype us.

So are our smartphones addictive, medically speaking? Some psychologists suggest that using our iPhones and BlackBerrys may tap into the same associative learning pathways in the brain that make other compulsive behaviors — like gambling — so addictive. As with addiction to drugs or cigarettes or food, the chemical driver of this process is the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.

Earlier this year, I carried out an fMRI experiment to find out whether iPhones were really, truly addictive, no less so than alcohol, cocaine, shopping or video games. In conjunction with the San Diego-based firm MindSign Neuromarketing, I enlisted eight men and eight women between the ages of 18 and 25. Our 16 subjects were exposed separately to audio and to video of a ringing and vibrating iPhone.

In each instance, the results showed activation in both the audio and visual cortices of the subjects’ brains. In other words, when they were exposed to the video, our subjects’ brains didn’t just see the vibrating iPhone, they “heard” it, too; and when they were exposed to the audio, they also “saw” it. This powerful cross-sensory phenomenon is known as synesthesia.

But most striking of all was the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member.
In short, the subjects didn’t demonstrate the classic brain-based signs of addiction. Instead, they loved their iPhones.

As we embrace new technology that does everything but kiss us on the mouth, we risk cutting ourselves off from human interaction. For many, the iPhone has become a best friend, partner, lifeline, companion and, yes, even a Valentine. The man or woman we love most may be seated across from us in a romantic Paris bistro, but his or her 8GB, 16GB or 32GB rival lies in wait inside our pockets and purses.

My best advice? Shut off your iPhone, order some good Champagne and find love and compassion the old-fashioned way.
Martin Lindstrom is the author of “Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.

Read More

Bloomberg: Fear sells. You’ve been Brandwashed.

Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) — Martin Lindstrom, author of “Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy,” talks about the advertising strategies used by firms to sell their products. Lindstrom speaks with Scarlet Fu on Bloomberg Television’s “InBusiness With Margaret Brennan.” (Source: Bloomberg)


Read More

Today Show: Have you been secretly ‘brandwashed’?

Author Martin Lindstrom and the decoy family featured in his book “Brandwashed,”which documents guerrilla marketing tactics, discuss the stealthy and invasive ways companies manipulate consumers and their purchasing habits



Read More

CNBC Lunch Box: Brandwashed

Martin Lindstrom talks about the tricks and traps of branding.

Read More

Leonard Lopate Show: Brandwashed

Brandwashed from the womb. Hear why Madison Avenue Ad Agencies are rethinking their tactics.

Read More

New York Post: All Consuming

How Stores suck You In And Make You Spend More
by Maureen Callahan Sept 18, 2011

Illustrations by Dale Stephanos

In so many ways, it would seem ever more difficult to separate the typical American consumer — battered by the Great Recession, bloated jobless numbers, relentless spikes in foreclosures and food stamps — from what little money they have. And yet at no time in history has it ever been simpler to do so, with companies employing the most sinister methods.

“That’s is why I did this book,” says Martin Lindstrom, author of “Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.”

Lindstrom, a marketing genius who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2009, says that his experience in the field and research into new strategies has led him to become something of an apostate.

TRICK NO. 1Retail and furniture shops install carpeting with extra-high, extra-thick threads, because the physical and psychological effects have been proven to actually make you stop in your tracks and then slow your pace; the longer you stay in the store, the more likely you are to buy.

TRICK NO. 1Retail and furniture shops install carpeting with extra-high, extra-thick threads, because the physical and psychological effects have been proven to actually make you stop in your tracks and then slow your pace; the longer you stay in the store, the more likely you are to buy.
TRICK NO. 2Credit card companies know what kind of consumer you are before they ever make you an offer. If you buy smoke detectors, you never miss a payment. They love college students, because even though they often pay off debts, they take a long time to do it — which means more interest.

“We have gone too far,” he says. “It’s time to draw a line in the sand — not just to inform the marketers, but to inform consumers so that they can push back.”

We spend nearly every conscious moment being pitched and prodded: at home, on our commute, at work, at sports arenas, the movies, bars, plays, restaurants, clubs, on our phones. Most of us likely consider ourselves sophisticated shoppers, familiar with tactics such as impulse buys and product placement, yet we’re manipulated into making nine out of every 10 purchases.

Despite such success rates, the industry has come to regard these effective techniques as rudimentary and antiquated. Today, the retailers that you patronize, whether brick-and-mortar or online, can predict what product you’re going to buy and when, before it even occurs to you that you’re out of Aquafresh, or will need two rolls of Bounty in about a week.

As described in the new book, “The Two-Second Advantage: How We Succeed by Anticipating the Future — Just Enough,” the US government and multinational corporations are building super-computers that mimic the human brain, which is wired to swiftly synthesize information in order to predict what will happen within seconds.

“Predicting customer and competitive behavior,” write authors Vivek Ranadive and Kevin Maney, “will be a key differentiator in 21st century business.”

Dystopian and Orwellian as this all may sound, no one is safe — not even the unborn. That, after all, is a future consumer.

Lindstrom first became aware of what’s called “priming” while conducting research in Asia — Korea, specifically. He focused on one of that nation’s biggest shopping mall chains, which was particularly popular with pregnant women and young mothers. Why? A few years ago, this mall, while trying to keep their shoppers in stores longer, began pumping in smells and sounds that pregnant women might find soothing — everything from Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder to the aroma of cherries to music that these women themselves would have heard in utero. (Science has since determined that fetuses as young as six months are sensitive and receptive to outside stimuli.)

Read More

Wall Street Journal: Selling Illusions of Cleanliness

By Martin Lindstrom

As someone who’s been on the frontlines of the branding wars, I’ve spent countless hours with CEOs, advertising executives and marketing mavens at some of the biggest companies in the world. I’ve seen—and, honestly, been disturbed by—the full range of psychological tricks and schemes that some companies use to prey on our most deeply rooted fears, dreams and desires in order to persuade us to buy their brands and products.

A key lesson: Fear sells. I recall a vintage early 20th century ad for lunchbox thermoses that bore an unforgettable tagline: “A Fly in the Milk May Mean a Baby in the Grave.” Advertisers have since gotten more subtle in using fear to persuade us, but the underlying principle remains the same. The illusion of cleanliness or freshness is a particularly powerful persuader—and marketers know it.

To see all the tricks that marketers have for creating the appearance of freshness, there’s no better place to go than Whole Foods, the giant purveyor of natural and organic edibles. As we enter Whole Foods, symbols—or what advertisers call “symbolics”—of freshness overwhelm us. The first thing you see is flowers—geraniums, daffodils, jonquils—among the freshest, most perishable objects on earth.

The prices for the flowers and other produce are scrawled in chalk on fragments of black slate, a tradition borrowed from outdoor markets in Europe. It’s as if the farmer or grower had unloaded his produce (chalk and slate boards in hand), then hopped back in his flatbed truck and motored back to the country. But, in fact, while some of the flowers are purchased locally, many are bought centrally, and in-house Whole Foods artists produce the chalk boards.

These same tactics explain the coolers of chipped ice used by many supermarket chains. To our irrational, germ-fearing minds, tortillas, hot dogs and pickles must be fresher—and thus safer to eat—when they’re sitting on a bed of ice, especially when the soda or juice perspires a little, a phenomenon the industry dubs “sweat” (the refrigerators in most juice and milk aisles are deliberately kept at the exact temperature needed for this “sweating” to occur).

Similarly, for years now, supermarkets have been sprinkling select vegetables with little dew drops of water. Why? Like ice displays, those drops serve as a symbol, albeit a bogus one, of freshness and purity. (That same dewy mist makes the vegetables rot more quickly than they would otherwise.)

In experiments on consumer behavior that I’ve carried out across the world, I often ask people to empty the contents of their fridge and freezer and then to rank and replace the items, one by one, depending on how “fresh” they perceive the them to be.

What product consistently gets the highest ranking for freshness? Heinz ketchup. That’s right, consumers consider bottled ketchup fresher than lettuce, tomatoes and onions. “Why Heinz?” I always ask, noting that the expiration date on the bottle isn’t for another six months. “You’re right,” most reply after a moment. “I have no idea why I put that there.”

So what’s behind this bizarre impression? It’s all in the way the ketchup is marketed. Even though it is made from tomato concentrate, Heinz plays up its “tomato-ness” and its deep red color—the shade of a right-off-the-vine beefsteak tomato.

Another powerful “symbolic” of purity and freshness? Fruit. In the juice world, it’s a rule of thumb that the more fruit a manufacturer displays on the side of the juice carton, the greater its perceived freshness. Note the cascade of kiwis, oranges, mangoes and raspberries on most juice cartons.

Speaking of fruit, you may think a banana is just a banana, but it’s not. Dole and other growers have made the creation of a banana into a mini-science. Sales records show that bananas with Pantone color 13-0858 (otherwise known as Vibrant Yellow) are less likely to sell than bananas with Pantone color 12-0752 (also called Buttercup), which is one grade warmer, visually, and seems to imply a riper, fresher fruit. So these companies plant bananas under conditions most likely to produce the “right” color.

Knowing that even the suggestion of fruit evokes powerful associations of health, freshness and cleanliness, brands across all categories have gone fruity on us, infusing everything from shampoos to bottled waters with pineapple, oranges, peaches, passion fruit and banana fragrances—engineered in a chemist’s laboratory, of course. The same goes for baby soaps, nicotine chewing gum, lip balm, teas, vitamins, cosmetics and furniture polish. Mango-papaya conditioner, anyone? Orange-scented Pine-Sol?

Will these products get your hair or your floors any cleaner than the regular versions? No. But the scent of fruit evokes strong associations of cleanliness for germophobic consumers. By now, our shampoos are so fruity that, instead of scrubbing with them, we’re tempted to guzzle them down.

Shampoo companies also realize that the sheer volume of bubbles a shampoo generates can prompt thoughts of freshness and cleanliness—bubbles signal that the shampoo is strong and invigorating (just as the “sting” of an after-shave or the bubbles hitting our throat when we down sparkling water “inform” us that the product is fresh and uncontaminated). Some companies have gone so far as to create a chemical that accelerates the appearance and quality of bubbles, making bathers feel as though their hair is getting cleaner faster. I call this a “perceived justification symbol”—a moment designed to reassure us that we made the right purchase (and to ensure that we’ll stay loyal to that product).

Finally, a fish story from Spain’s Canary Islands: A friend of mine was once part of the crew that caught the day’s supply of seafood for a harbor restaurant. Their catch was always transferred to a traditional fisherman’s boat (the kind no one uses anymore). When customers arrived at the restaurant for lunch, the old boat would putter into the harbor and a grizzled old fisherman would deliver the fish, ostensibly reeled in just moments earlier. It was all staged, but the customers ate it up.

At the end of the day, we want to buy the illusions that the marketing world sells to us—hook, line and sinker. Which may be the scariest thing of all.

Read More

Neurosciencemarketing: Review

Brandwashed is a must read not just for marketers, but for all readers who want to understand how they can be manipulated by clever marketing. And even consumers who don’t fall into the “tinfoil hat” category will be entertained by Lindstrom’s wealth of real-world examples. Marketing enthusiasts will find the book impossible to put down, and, whether the author intends it or not, will find new ways to improve the effectiveness of their efforts. Like the marketers he describes, Lindstrom has created a book that will grab your brain and keep you hooked until you finish it.

Find out more

Read More

Americas Next Top Models get One Word from Martin Lindstrom

Tyra Banks calls in Martin to help America’s next Top Models own a word for their future, that will help them to brand themselves.  Martin Lindstrom polls their fans and creates a word for each of them. Watch the show to see the results – and reactions.


Read More

Globe and Mail: Repentant marketer Martin Lindstrom confesses his sins

Martin Lindstrom is creeped out by the way marketing companies can peer into our psyches by scanning our credit card history. He is appalled by the way they prey on our biologically based fears and passions. He thinks they’re often sneaky, underhanded, cunning. And he accuses them of lying on a regular basis. Read all about it here!

Read More

Bloomberg: Martin Lindstrom Sees Brand-Religion Mental Correlation

Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) — Martin Lindstrom, author of “Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy”, talks with Bloomberg’s Julie Hyman about consumers and brand loyalty. Lindstrom says there’s a “strong” mental correlation between brands and religion.



Read More

Q & A with Family Circle Magazine

Why We Spend Money

Q. The subtitle of your book is “Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.” We’re intrigued.
Believe me, there are many. Too many to count.

Q. Any that specifically target moms?
Oh, sure. For one, marketers are capitalizing big-time on the fact that today’s mothers are consumed with worry about germs and dirt. Any promise to “sanitize” or packaging that suggests sterile contents speaks directly to this.

Q. What else?
Ever notice the music being piped into the stores? Odds are it’s a carefully orchestrated medley of songs that evoke instant nostalgia and take you back to a time when life was far simpler. You feel all warm and fuzzy, and then you’re sort of magically willing to open up your wallet.

Q. Your book details a concept you refer to as a person’s “future feared self.” Explain.
We all have some version of a future self we would take great pains to avoid. As in, do most of us go to the gym to be healthy, or because we’re afraid of getting flabby and not fitting into clothes? Do we bathe and brush our teeth out of reverence for the laws of hygiene, or because we’re afraid of what we would look like otherwise? Those are examples of future feared selves that we’re willing to spend money to avoid becoming.

Q. Let’s switch gears. Talk a bit about fruit.
Ah, fruit. A universally revered symbol of freshness and health. Brands across all category lines—hair conditioners, lip balms, even furniture polish—have gone fruity on us. The scent evokes feel-good associations and we can’t get enough.

Q. What about Facebook? Doesn’t social media trump everything when it comes to marketing?
People assume that, but no. Facebook has a place, sure, but actual interaction among family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, that’s the gold standard. Word of mouth, person to person, is much bigger. It always will be.

Q. Would Mark Zuckerberg beg to differ?
You’d have to ask him, I suppose.

Originally published in the October 17, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.

Read More

Martin Lindstrom on Carte Blanche Show

Read More

How to Hype-Proof your Tween: (Could this be the ultimate win/win solution?)

Good Housekeeping. If you’re the parent of kids aged somewhere between 8 and 12, you’re trapped in the mother of all economic nightmares – the Tween non-stop money-go-round. If you’re nodding your head in agreement and resigning yourself to a re-mortgage to finance the next round of “please can I have it…please!”, help, finally, is at hand! Quoted in this extraordinary article by Jeffery Kluger, Lindstrom offers up solutions that will not only make your wallet happy, but might also short-circuit any looming tantrum and let you come out adored and admired. Okay, maybe not adored. Tempting tip you would never have thought of: Procrastination! Now read on…

Read More

How to Hype-Proof your Tween: (Could this be the ultimate win/win solution?)

Good Housekeeping. If you’re the parent of kids aged somewhere between 8 and 12, you’re trapped in the mother of all economic nightmares – the Tween non-stop money-go-round. If you’re nodding your head in agreement and resigning yourself to a re-mortgage to finance the next round of “please can I have it…please!”, help, finally, is at hand! Quoted in this extraordinary article by Jeffery Kluger, Lindstrom offers up solutions that will not only make your wallet happy, but might also short-circuit any looming tantrum and let you come out adored and admired. Okay, maybe not adored. Tempting tip you would never have thought of: Procrastination! Now read on…

Read More

Contagious: Branding Fear: by Martin Lindstrom

What do guns, burglar alarms and condoms have in common? Their sales all boomed in 2009, with condom sales jumping 22 per cent over the same period in 2008. But why?

The answer can perhaps be found in Nigeria and Chile – two countries I visited on my world tour promoting Buyology. Surprisingly neither of the two countries was familiar with the “R” word. When asking government officials why that was the case, the explanation was simple – the media hadn’t paid that much attention to it, and as such no one had effectively read about the Recession, so the Recession simply had not yet arrived.

Is this whole thing just a well-orchestrated media story whipping up that dreaded component – fear? When you are told repeatedly that the world is buckling under the weight of a financial crisis, the first line of defence is to save whatever money you have. That sets a whole new train in motion. Suddenly your local retailer around the corner loses revenue from your less-frequent visits. They are forced to lay off staff, who in turn are spending less, and in fact are no longer buying your products. It becomes a cycle somewhat akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re told it’s a crisis. We stop spending. They stop spending. Everyone from producer to retailer suffers. And the economic meltdown keeps on melting.

As sophisticated as we have come to believe we are, at this point in time, we need to remind ourselves that we’re not that far from our evolutionary relatives – primates who live their lives taking care of most basic needs – food, sex, sleep and survival.

In an atmosphere of fear, we tend to revert back to our own basic needs, and this can explain why we’re stocking up on condoms, buying weapons and installing burglar alarms.

A recent neuroscience study shows that fear is a far bigger driver than we would ever care to admit. Fear of losing our job, fear of not being able to make the kid’s school payments, fear of ending up in the proverbial gutter. These thoughts are scary enough to bring on an instant anxiety attack. When we’re operating in survival mode, fear and sex become our two main drivers.

When President Johnson ran his ‘Daisy’ TV commercial, which threatened voters with nuclear annihilation if he wasn’t elected, the voters hated it. George W. Bush tapped into a similar zeitgeist in 2004. His commercial, showing wolves crossing the border as stealthily as terrorists, he instilled the self-same dread and fear. Both TV commercials acted on the amygdale, the region in our brain responsible for generating fear. Voters spoke of their dislike for both commercials, yet what brain scans showed was that as a consequence of these ads, voters favoured the politicians that would best ‘protect’ them.

From the very first days of the US recession, all three big car manufacturers announced unheard-of discounts to shift their stock. They continue to offer their cars at cost, and despite this, nobody’s buying. The problem is not the cars, but the proposition which has failed to take the fear factor into account. People who fear for their jobs, are hesitant about spending money on a big-ticket purchase. The Korean car manufacturer Hyundai took this cautious mood into account and began and offering very real assurances. They say, “Buy any new Hyundai, and if in the next year you lose your income, we’ll let you return it.” In just a month Hyundai increased its sales by more than 20 percent in the US alone. You may wonder if the company’s sitting with a lot of returned stock. Well, as this goes to print, supposedly only two cars have been returned.

You cannot build brands in a recession unless you are able to manage fear. It’s essential that you understand how fear works, and consequently how it affects purchasing behaviour. Fear is often as irrational as everything else in our lives. When a plane crashes, the airline industry allows for 10 percent less traffic in the weeks that follow. Yet you don’t have to be a statistical genius to know that the chances of a second plane crashing shortly after, are substantially lower than before. Irrational propositions become more powerful than ridiculously high discounts.

Over the past months, a flurry of new banks have opened their doors for business on Main Street, USA. They have no track record, no established history and no known personnel. Their proposition is straightforward – We’re new. We have no links to Wall Street. We’re here to serve you. Consumers are finding this immensely attractive. Yet, I’m sure we’d agree that a similar proposition a couple of years ago would not have stood a chance.

So what can we learn from neuroscience to help us cater for a market reeling in the depths of a financial recession? How can we continue to build brands?

I offer three ways to do this.

First, there’s always good news in bad times. A standard approach in this situation is to address consumers’ problems. And people always have problems. The fact is we rarely know what we want, but we have no trouble pointing out our difficulties. For example, no one knew they wanted an airbag, but everyone agreed they wanted safer cars.
It’s therefore important to ask yourself what sort of problems are consumers facing during this economic recession? There are many. People have had to cut back on travel and if they can afford to still take a holiday, well, it’s much cheaper to keep it local. Which might explain why those French perfumes are still selling – they offer a whiff of Paris. And if you can no longer afford expensive dining, you can always supplement your home-cooked meal with an after-dinner Lindt chocolate. We’re increasingly reluctant to invest in the share market, but we’re happy to put our money in gold.

Convert problems into assets for your brand.

Second, add a practical dimension to an irrational decision. No matter how much money you may have in the bank, or how secure your employment may be, it’s now fashionable to save your money and buy everything at a discount. What can a brand owner do? Particularly in light of the fact that a discounted brand typically takes seven years to recover!

The answer is simple. Add a practical dimension to the equation. One only needs to look at a hardwearing boot like Willeys to see that this manufacturer of sturdy reliable footwear is clocking up big sales. A well-designed jacket, that just happens to be reversible, could tip the balance in favour of the consumer who perceives they’re getting two coats for the price of one. The fact may be that the consumer is buying the jacket because they love the design – yet in recession times, the practical dimension is the deal maker.

Third, you have to systematically remove fear. Hyundai did it. And a stream of new banks are doing it. Both have succeeded in identifying why consumers are reluctant to spend. Once this is understood, then you can harness it and build a better product by addressing the fear and finding a way to eliminate it.

You sales may be down. But do you know why? People are certainly buying less, and explanations like, Well, there’s a recession going on out there, is not helpful. What’s important is to understand the fundamental role of fear, and then turn it around to strengthen your brand. Some of the world’s most enduring grocery brands were built on the back of the Great Depression, Each one turned the threat into an opportunity.

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do the same.

MARTIN LINDSTROM is a 2009 recipient of TIME Magazine’s “World’s 100 Most Influential People” and author of Buyology—Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (Doubleday, New York), a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best–seller. A prolific traveler, Lindstrom is on the road 300 days annually dispensing his brand of wisdom to top executives of McDonald’s Corporation, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Microsoft Corporation, The Walt Disney Company and GlaxoSmithKline, amongst others. His personal global audience is estimated at over a million people. Lindstrom has and continues to feature in the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, TIME, The Economist, New York Times, BusinessWeek, The Washington Post, USA Today, Fast Company, and numerous other publications. His recent book, BRAND Sense, was acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal as “…one of the five best marketing books ever published.” Lindstrom’s latest book, Buyology, has been translated into more than 30 languages. More at

Read More

Martin Speaking on ROI Branding

Read More

Wall Street Journal: Ferrari Finds Smoke Without Fire

Tobacco firm’s continued sponsorship is worth $100 million to Formula One racing team

Racing fans got a good look at Ferrari’s new Formula One cars in the opening Grand Prix of the 2010 season in Bahrain: In one of the dullest races in recent memory, Fernando Alonso completed 49 laps without incident to take the checkered flag, with teammate Felipe Massa close behind.

But as television cameras follow the iconic red cars during this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, few of the sport’s millions of viewers around the world will be aware that they are the subjects of a hugely controversial, and expensive, subliminal-advertising campaign.

Gaze at the Ferrari cars for long enough, and you’ll notice that instead of a brand logo, an anonymous barcode symbol appears behind the drivers’ head and on the team’s distinctive red overalls.

For this, Philip Morris International Inc., manufacturer of the Marlboro cigarette brand, pays Ferrari between $100 million and $130 million in sponsor fees, according to F1 Racing magazine, despite the European Union’s ban on tobacco advertising.

Marlboro Logo, Then and Now

The Marlboro logo used to appear on Ferrari’s Formula One car and the distinctive red overalls of its drivers, but after a ban on tobacco advertising, it has now been replaced by a colored barcode paid for by the cigarette maker.

The link between the world’s most elite auto-racing circuit and the tobacco industry goes back a long way: Marlboro first appeared as a sponsor in Formula One in 1972, with the BRM team, and the marketing budgets of Marlboro and other brands including Lucky Strike, Benson and Hedges and West continued to flowed into the sport throughout the 1990s.

The high level of funding from the tobacco industry raised the teams’ cost expectations, according to Ross Brawn, principal of the Mercedes F1 team and a former technical director of the Scuderia Ferrari team.

Mr. Brawn, whose eponymous team won last year’s constructors championship, says the sport is still wrestling with this legacy.

“Formula One budgets were cranked up in the past to a very high level, sustained by the tobacco companies,” he says. “Of course, Ferrari still has the backing of Philip Morris, but the rest of the teams have had to do without.”

Mr. Brawn says that the new spending limits coming into place are “vital to the future of Formula One” and that the success of the Brawn GP team last year proved what could be done.

“With 300 or 400 people employed at sensible cost it is possible to be competitive without tobacco money,” he says. “We’re coming down off that high, but I don’t think you’ll notice the difference in the racing.”

Martin Lindstrom is a neuro-marketing consultant and author of Buyology, a book based on a three-year, multimillion-dollar research project that exposed 2,000 consumers to branding materials while scanning their brains.

He says this research shows that the tobacco industry’s investment in Formula One is still reaping rewards, both in terms of their brand image, and in encouraging people to smoke.

Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa embrace after finishing first and second in the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix earlier this month.

“I’m endlessly impressed by Marlboro’s ability to take the core values of Formula One sex, speed, innovation, coolness and apply them to a cigarette brand,” says Mr. Lindstrom, a vehement anti-smoker himself. “That is an amazing achievement. Just by showing me a red Ferrari car, much more so than if you show them an advert for cigarette smoking.

“On a personal level I hate it, because the evidence is clear that tobacco sponsorship does make people smoke more, and is not just about switching brands, but professionally there is much to recommend.

“Even though that sponsorship is no longer legal we carried out experiments just showing a Formula One car, and people immediately craved cigarettes. What Marlboro has done is create a huge number of what I call ‘smashable components’ to their brand. They are sending indirect, subconscious signals that are talking to the brain without explicitly telling it we are being sold to.”

Mr. Lindstrom believes his findings have fundamental implications for the sport-sponsorship industry. “Sponsorship works when we are not really aware of the signals that are being sent: The messages get through because our guard is down, not up. A Formula One car passing below me with no logo is an example of this, and as a smoker it creates a craving, Pavlovian effect. When there are no logos around my rational mind tells me I shouldn’t crave those things. Without the logo my intuition kicks in and I want to smoke.”

The tobacco-advertising ban has had a series of unintended consequences, Mr. Lindstrom says. Because firms are unable to use brand logos and conventional channels, the sector was inadvertently liberated from traditional marketing dogma. As a result, cigarette companies are now among the most innovative and sophisticated marketers in the world.

Neuro-marketing remains controversial, but the audience for its findings is growing rapidly among the marketing community, says Paul Brennan of design agency Fitch. He says Marlboro’s relationship with McLaren and now Ferrari is aimed at “owning the color red,” which remains “the holy grail” for many companies seeking to differentiate themselves from competitor brands.

Mr. Brennan says we shouldn’t regard subliminal advertising as a way of “tricking the consumer into buying something they don’t want to,” but rather as a more innovative way of promoting a brand.

Sponsor logos have become a familiar backdrop to top-class sport around the world, but most are failing to make an impression, according to Mr. Lindstrom’s research.

“We are bombarded with thousands of direct-marketing messages a day, very few of which we are able to take in, let alone process in to changing buying behavior,” he says. “Having a logo on the perimeter board is not worth the money, there has to be a synergy, where the brand becomes synonymous with the sport, and better still, becomes a ritual.

“Likewise, rights holders must prove that they are about more than just awareness, which is not as valuable a commodity as it was 20 years ago, when the sponsorship model was built that still applies today.”

Richard Gillis is editor of Platform magazine

Read More

BrandSense in Singapore

Read More

Singapore: Lindstrom scoops Asia’s Brand Builder of the Decade Award!

Singapore, July 23, 2010.

Asia’s prestigious CMO Organization conferred its highest award on Martin Lindstrom, CEO and Chairman of Lindstrom Company and Chairman of Buyology Inc. in a glittering award ceremony held recently in Singapore. Brand Builder of the Decade Award recognizes leadership and a noteworthy level of competency across all aspects of business marketing management. Beating out some other noteworthy contenders, Lindstrom was cited in particular for achieving excellence in the areas of strategic perspectives, risk management, networking, change agent, and, of course, business acumen.

The CMO organization runs and operate virtually with an Advisory Council consisting of members who act as advisors and provide input as and when needed. These are not only the current council members but also professionals who have been with CMO for some 16 years. Based on their input CMO makes decisions in collaboration with an independent jury.

The BRAND BUILDER OF THE DECADE AWARD is the most prestigious Award and the highest honor which an individual can receive for his/her contribution.

The following competencies were judged:
Strategic Perspective
Business Goal Management
Risk Management
Team Orientation and People Management
Change Agent
Customer Focus
Business Acumen
Performance Management
Achieving Excellence

Read More

Mind-reading: Marketing’s newest, sexiest tool…

It was always a case of just ask the consumer what they think of you, your brand, your product – and they will tell you. Until about 7 years ago, when Neuroscience technology became available. Then we discovered – thanks to the Buyology research – that close on 85% of our responses to advertising messages springs from the subconscious part of our brains. And the real answers began to emerge. What exactly goes on in our heads when marketing messages penetrate? Slowly but inevitably, neuroscience and Lindstrom’s pioneering methodologies have shown there is way more than we ever suspected. Hannah Kuchler from the Financial Times explains in detail…

Read More

Times Online: Keep plugging away. The brand is a winner

March 10, 2010

Keep plugging away. The brand is a winner

Tories think that the job of changing their party’s image is complete. It isn’t – and complacency could be fatal

Daniel Finkelstein

In 1915 the Coca-Cola company decided that it needed to do something about its bottles. The firm’s bottlers were complaining. They felt that the straight-sided containers they were using weren’t distinctive enough. So Coca-Cola set a challenge to glass manufacturers. Could someone out there come up with a better bottle?

Yes, was the answer. The Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, proposed the swirling, curved ‘contour’ bottle. It became, and remains, one of the most recognisable and best-loved brand icons. And Martin Lindstrom, the brand guru and author of the book Buyology, thinks he knows why. The Coca-Cola bottle is, he says, ‘smashable’.

If you drop the famous Coke bottle on the ground, and it smashes into a hundred pieces, you would be able to pick up just one of them and still recognise what it is. Lindstrom lists some other brands of which the same is true. A bit of a Harley-Davidson, a scrap of an iPod, a drop of Guinness, Lego. These brands are all smashable.

But the Conservatives? I suspect there’s only one sense in which anyone thinks they are smashable, and it’s not Lindstrom’s.

A smashable brand is consistent, the same through and through. Its values guide every part of the design, its identifying features suffuse everything, there isn’t a detail that is left out, that isn’t true to the whole. And all appeal to the emotions. One study, using brain scans, shows that smashable brands light up the same part of the brain as religious imagery.

These brands share something else. Their owners understand that there is much more to their appeal than one simple function, however good that function might be. In fact consumers purchase the product as much for what it says about them, and how it makes them feel, as for what it does. The product is much more than functional, it is part of their identity.

You can divide the last five years, or even fifteen years, in politics into two sorts of period. You can divide it into the periods when the Conservatives have remembered and cared about their brand and the periods when they haven’t. Periods when they have understood the need to build a consistent and coherent picture in voters minds of who they are, and periods when they have doubted the necessity, or have believed the job done, or have chased other goals. And I believe that you can divide the periods in one other way. The periods when they have cared about their brand and been successful, and periods when they haven’t cared and have not been successful.

Now the election campaign is upon David Cameron’s Conservatives, and the polls are closing, and the leadership team has a choice. What sort of period is the next two months going to be?

To anyone who doubts this account, I recommend a superb new history of the last decade in Tory politics, published this week. Peter Snowdon’s meticulous narrative, Back from the Brink, records the highs and lows of the party both before and after David Cameron captured the leadership.

As Snowdon records, one of the events that propelled Mr Cameron into the leader’s chair was the presentation to the 2005 Tory conference of opinion research on the Conservative brand. Tory immigration policy garnered significantly less support the moment voters were informed which party supported it. Informing voters that the immigration policy they had just been asked about belonged to Labour made no difference to their support. The brand problem was confined to the Conservatives.

The party faithful realised what this meant and chose a leader who might alter perceptions. And in a hectic, but hugely successful, period after David Cameron became leader, his team concentrated on just that task. Everything – policy initiatives with Bob Geldof, photocalls with huskies, being seen out biking, dropping health policies that seemed to favour opting out of the system, shifting Tory attitudes on issues like gay rights – was geared to make the party, and particularly its leader, seem different.

These Tories, the message was intended to say, are modern, energetic, determined, tolerant, they listen, they are at ease with today’s Britain. They understand that people are fed up with knockabout politics as usual. They support public services, particularly the NHS, they will protect the low-paid and they understand that, as Mr Cameron put it early on, “we’re all in this together”.

The Tories are still living on the capital from this spell. But every so often, they forget. They start thinking they have changed the brand already, that the work has been done. They have self-indulgent little rows, as they did over grammar schools. They coast. They start wondering if they need a retail offer to the public, some big (probably expensive and therefore impossible) initiative. They lose sight of the fact that their best moments (Mr Cameron’s speech without notes and his response on expenses, George Osborne’s big calls on taxes and debt and spending) have been when they have been reinforcing their new brand.

Politicians and pundits alike overestimate the impact that individual policy initiatives have on voters. Focus-group research suggests that most voters don’t know what “Whitehall” is or what “hung Parliament” means. The BBC has done research which shows that the term backbencher is lost on those watching its news bulletins. All that gets through is very broad messages about the character of a party, about who it is, about its brand. And this is transmitted in many ways big and small, but particularly through pictures and spontaneous public appearances.

The old negatives that dogged the Tories – that they will cut the NHS, get rid of tax credits, favour the rich over the poor, the South over the North – dog them still. They, and particularly David Cameron, have made some progress in persuading people that the party has changed. But not enough. And certainly not enough to stop plugging away at the message. Every day. All the time.

Eighty two per cent of people think it is time for a change. Less than half say they will vote Conservative. The voters are out there to give the Tories a landslide, but the party needs to help them over the finish line. They just need to show a bit of (Coca-Cola) bottle.

Read More

Fox Business: Sounds Like Money

What is the most powerful sound in the world? In this recent interview with Martin Lindstrom FOX Business explores the latest land-grab in Advertising – the fight to brand and own generic sounds? Is it possible to own the sound of a sizzling steak or the sound of a ATM machine? You’ll be surprised to learn the answer and what it means for brands in the future.


Read More

Time/CNN: Now Hear This

Now Hear This
Monday March 1, 2010

By Jeffrey Kluger

If you’re like most people, you’re way too smart for advertising. You flip right past newspaper ads, never click on ads online and leave the room during TV commercials.

That, at least, is what we tell ourselves. But what we tell ourselves is hooey. Advertising works, which is why, even in hard economic times, Madison Avenue is a $34 billion–a–year business. And if Martin Lindstrom–author of the best seller Buyology and a marketing consultant for FORTUNE 500 companies, including PepsiCo and Disney–is correct, trying to tune this stuff out is about to get a whole lot harder.

Lindstrom is a practitioner of neuromarketing research, in which consumers are exposed to ads while hooked up to machines that monitor brain activity, pupil dilation, sweat responses and flickers in facial muscles, all of which are markers of emotion. According to his studies, 83% of all forms of advertising principally engage only one of our senses: sight. Hearing, however, can be just as powerful, though advertisers have taken only limited advantage of it. Historically, ads have relied on jingles and slogans to catch our ear, largely ignoring everyday sounds–a steak sizzling, a baby laughing and other noises our bodies can’t help paying attention to. Weave this stuff into an ad campaign, and we may be powerless to resist it.

To figure out what most appeals to our ear, Lindstrom wired up his volunteers, then played them recordings of dozens of familiar sounds, from McDonald’s ubiquitous “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle to birds chirping and cigarettes being lit. The sound that blew the doors off all the rest–both in terms of interest and positive feelings–was a baby giggling. The other high-ranking sounds were less primal but still powerful. The hum of a vibrating cell phone was Lindstrom’s second-place finisher. Others that followed were an ATM dispensing cash, a steak sizzling on a grill and a soda being popped and poured.

In all of these cases, it didn’t take a Mad Man to invent the sounds, infuse them with meaning and then play them over and over until the subjects internalized them. Rather, the sounds already had meaning and thus triggered a cascade of reactions: hunger, thirst, happy anticipation.

“Cultural messages that get into your nervous system are very common and make you behave certain ways,” says neuroscientist Read Montague of Baylor College of Medicine. Advertisers who fail to understand that pay a price. Lindstrom admits to being mystified by TV ads that give viewers close-up food-porn shots of meat on a grill but accompany that with generic jangly guitar music. One of his earlier brain studies showed that numerous regions, including the insula and orbital frontal cortex, jump into action when such discordance occurs, trying to make sense of it.

TV advertisers aren’t the only ones who may start putting sound to greater use. Retailers are also catching on. The 0101 department store in Japan, for example, has been designed as a series of soundscapes, playing different sound effects such as children at play, birdsongs and lapping water in the sportswear, fragrance and formal-wear sections. Lindstrom is consulting with clients about employing a similar strategy in European supermarkets, piping the sound of percolating coffee or fizzing soda into the beverage department or that of a baby cooing into the baby-food aisle.

None of this means that advertisers just have to turn the audio dials and consumers will come running. Indeed, sometimes they flee. In the early years of mainstream cell-phone use, the Nokia ringtone was recognized by 42% of people in the U.K.–and soon became widely loathed. That, Lindstrom says, was partly because so few users practiced cell-phone etiquette and the blasted things kept going off in movie theaters. The Microsoft start-up sound has taken on similarly negative associations, because people so often hear it when they’re rebooting after their computer has crashed. In these cases, manufacturers themselves must reboot by changing the offending sound slightly or replacing it entirely.

If history is any indication, marketers will keep getting more manipulative, and the storm of commercial noise will become more focused. Even then, there may be hope: Lindstrom’s testing shows that people respond to a sound better when it’s subtler. If nothing else, smart marketers may at least keep the volume low.

Neural Advertising

What new ad trickery awaits? Find out at

Read More

NBC Today Show: Personal Branding Part I

Look at Me Now! Personal Branding on TODAY Show (Part 1)

New York City. In a world growing increasingly more obsessed by celebrities, we tend to overlook one important fact: as individuals, celebrities have pretty much mastered the art of turning themselves into powerful, eye-catching and memorable personal brands. Think Madonna, Paris Hilton, Brad Pitt  even Barack Obama. What can we learn from them? In Part 1 of this riveting TODAY Show segment, Lindstrom concludes that by mimicking some of the fundamental rules employed by celebrities, we have the power as individuals to develop ourselves into a influential personal brand. To find out what these rules are, and other essential tips on personal branding, play this video.

Read More

Live models spice up New York window display: LA Times December 4, 2009

A clothing and accessories retailer is drawing traffic — and controversy — with two women lounging around in skimpy clothes in a window on Fifth Avenue.
By Tina Susman
December 4, 2009
Reporting from New York

It’s what all young women do in their spare time: lounge about in frilly underwear, fiddle with their rhinestone bellybutton rings and prance on the sofa, oblivious to passers-by peeping through uncovered windows.

Well, not quite, but the provocatively clad women going about their business on Fifth Avenue aren’t typical. They are an advertisement for the clothing and accessories retailer XOXO, whose live window display featuring two models — friends from Venice, Calif. — engaged in mundane activities is a megahit this shopping season.

“Are they real?” one man asked incredulously, whipping his head around toward the window Tuesday as Helene Traasavik and Niki Huey sipped coffee and dabbled on their laptops while wearing lacy lingerie, short robes (open in the front) and slippers. “I came all the way from Queens to see it,” said another man who gave his name only as Tin.

Whether the display will translate to a permanent boon for XOXO remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: It’s drawing more attention than tiny reindeer and Santa’s sleigh ever would.

Since “the show,” as locals call it, opened Nov. 27, traffic to has increased 35%, said Erin Haggerty of the Kellwood Co. — which designs, manufactures and markets goods that include XOXO’s flirty, feminine fashions.

Some of the increase is due to Black Friday and Cyber Monday surges, Haggerty said. But some no doubt can be attributed to the buzz the advertisement has created in a city famous for its residents’ ability to barrel down the sidewalks while ignoring the street theater around them.

At the corner of 38th Street and Fifth Avenue, nearly everyone stops to stare. Amused strangers debate everything from the appropriateness to the point of it all.

“We have to approach things in nontraditional ways,” said Carol Powley, Kellwood’s senior marketing director. “This is a look into the first apartment, if you will, of an XOXO girl.”

There is a powder-blue sofa, a white shag rug, racks of clothes, shoes on the floor and pictures on the wall. There also is a full-length mirror in front of which Traasavik and Huey preen as they wriggle in and out of different outfits before fascinated onlookers. Those moments, however, are rare. The models spend most of their six hours in the window every day in lingerie, sipping coffee, chatting and checking e-mails on their laptops. Yes, they have WiFi in there. All that’s missing to make it perfectly homey, it seems, is a cat. And curtains.

With more people than ever shopping online, the spectacle is a surefire way to grab consumers who otherwise might not notice store windows. And the fact that prime Manhattan space was available is a reflection of New York’s struggling economy. The space on the buzzing corner used to be occupied by a CompUSA store, which closed.

This week, neither cold rain nor frigid winds stopped people from standing transfixed in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows once Traasavik and Huey sauntered into view at noon. Most of the lingering men would not give their full names, and they scattered like snowflakes in the wind when a TV crew turned its camera in their direction. But all of them had opinions.

“I wouldn’t otherwise look at their website, so this was a way of getting my attention,” said an electrician named Chris, adding that his wife might like the blue booties on one model’s feet. “I wouldn’t have noticed them on a mannequin, but on her legs I did. Maybe now I’ll buy them.”

Patrick Walsh Jr., who runs an animation studio in the neighborhood, stopped by with his colleagues Gary Stanton and Brendan Murphy to see what the fuss was about. “I passed by this like three times yesterday and didn’t know what the product was,” Murphy said. “It seems like they’re selling underwear,” Walsh said. “Or phone sex.”

All agreed that the display was mild compared with what one might see in Amsterdam’s red-light district — and many female passers-by shared that view. “It’s cute. It sure got my attention, but it would help if they put on more clothes so we knew what the items looked like,” Dee Sealey said.

Nobody has formally complained, according to police spokesman Martin Speechley. The biggest problem seems to be the ruckus that ensues each time the models stand up, drop their robes and move toward the clothing rack — a sign that it’s time to shimmy into some clothes and then take them off again. Men press close to the windows. They wave. They hold up signs. One lifted his shirt and pressed his bare chest against the glass.

It’s hopeless, though. Huey and Traasavik, both professional models, have no trouble ignoring what’s going on outside. “We’re kind of used to being stared at,” Huey said good-naturedly as she and Traasavik sat on the sofa after slipping on stilettos and leg-baring outfits.

“It’s so laid-back, it’s almost like not working,” Traasavik said. The hardest part might be lounging about while looking perfect. “Because we get dolled up all the time for work, we don’t like to do that in our down time,” she added.

The display will run through Sunday, and advertising guru Martin Lindstrom said that no matter what the short-term sales impact is, the buzz surrounding the campaign guaranteed long-term benefits for XOXO.

“Sex does not sell, but what sells is the controversy around it, and that’s what is happening here,” Lindstrom said. “XOXO has generated brand awareness.” There’s just one problem, he said: How to follow this up with an equally buzz-worthy campaign. Because “people will expect to be even more shocked next time.”

Read More

Burger King, Carl’s Jr. pull out oldest ad trick in book: Sex: USA Today Dec 22, 2009

By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

Call it the battle of the virtual burger babes.

In one corner, there’s Kim Kardashian, the sexy cable star, eager to chat via webcam with Carl’s Jr. customers on “The Ultimate Salad Lunch Date” at

In the other corner, there’s Burger King’s “Shower Babe,” an anonymous 20-year-old from South London. Folks can watch and hear her online while she showers in a bikini and sings. Viewers are asked to vote for what song she’ll sing  and what bikini she’ll wear  the next day.

One “seriously lucky” person in the U.K. who visits the website,, will win a breakfast date with Shower Babe.

This may be the virtual future of fast-food advertising. Never mind that BK is pitching breakfast items and Carl’s is pitching salads with these promos. Chains such as BK and Carl’s, which squarely target teens and twentysomethings, find that the triple combo of hot babes, fast food and webcams work well to draw hard-to-reach teen guy prime customers to their sites and, ultimately, into stores.

But critics abound.

“It’s as if we’re back in the 1950s the way pop culture portrays women, but with New Age technology,” says Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.

Martin Lindstrom, a marketing consultant, questions whether sex in ads really sells. While viewers are quick to recall sexual imagery, they mostly forget what brand is behind the ad, he says. “What does sex really have to do with burgers?”

That’s not the point, says Andy Puzder, CEO of Carl’s Jr. “You can say 1,000 times that you have a great burger and no one will listen to you, but if you put a beautiful woman in the ad, they will.”

Consumers who buy new Carl’s salads between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12 will be given a special code granting access to ask Kardashian questions during the Jan. 13 virtual lunch date. No code is required, however, to watch the event via streaming video.

The BK site advises fans to “watch our shower babe shake her bits to the hits at 9:30 a.m. every morning.”

The campaign, which began Dec. 8, ends on Thursday. The site has had 70,000 unique visitors. “While we know (it) won’t appeal to every consumer,” BK spokeswoman Michelle Miguelez says, “we do know that it does resonate with our key male superfans in the U.K.”

Read More

Time Magazine: Martin Lindstrom selected by TIME 100 – by Chris Anderson

You know the old saw about half our advertising being wasted but we don’t know which half? Well, now we do, thanks to Martin Lindstrom, a Danish brand consultant and the author of the book Buyology, who took a brave leap into neuroscience to figure out why we buy  or don’t. Using functional MRI and other brain-scanning techniques, he went beyond the flimflam of the Mad Men and measured the minds of more than 2,000 consumers, all observed under the influence of marketing.

What Lindstrom, 39, found was that many ads are not only ineffective but also have a sort of reverse effect. Huge health warnings on cigarette packs may actually encourage smokers to light up because they trigger a mental echo of the desirable product. Ford spent $26 million sponsoring American Idol, yet Lindstrom found that consumers came to think less of the company, mostly because its ads interrupted the show.

It was in 2003 that Lindstrom started reading about brain-imaging tools and realized they could be applied to marketing. He raised research money, brought scientists on board and helped recruit subjects. He’s one of the first brand experts to understand the biology of consumer desire.

When you look past what people say and measure what their brains say, you realize the subconscious controls purchasing. Pepsi, for example, always won the Pepsi Challenge, but Coke won in the marketplace, because it’s not about which tastes better but about which we think tastes better. That’s an emotional reaction, not a rational (or even gustatory) one, and the brain scans reveal how it happens.

As a generation grows up online, the tools of persuasion will have to be as measurable as the medium. Google does it with clicks and links, and Lindstrom does it with neurons and blood flow. Somewhere between the eye and the mouse finger is the secret to selling.

Anderson is editor in chief of Wired and author of The Long Tail

Appeared in the TIME 100 edition of 2009 on stands Friday 30th of April 2009

Read More

Martin Lindstrom on Richard and Judy Show

Read More

Left in the Flat-Screen Dust: Washington Post 19 September 2009

Left in the Flat-Screen Dust: Old-Model TVs Are So Toxic, You Can’t Give ‘Em Away. Literally.

Michael S. Rosenwald; Washington Post Staff Writer

This land is your land, this land is clunker land. From clunker cars to Jonathan Carroll’s kitchen table, where a 20-inch Philips TV sits unplugged awaiting someone — anyone — to fire it up again before next week’s season premiere of “Dancing With the Stars.”

The TV works fine, Carroll says in a Craigslist ad. Only $40. Just a few years old. Perfect for a dorm room. Yet nobody has responded to the offer. “Not even the scammers,” Carroll said. “They don’t bother.” Similar ads are piling up: “32” Panasonic TV 2000. Perfect working condition. Like New.” And “19 inch tv – $19.”

Alas, these televisions don’t have much going for them. In technological terms, they use cathode-ray tubes — CRTs. In layman’s language, they are clunkers. Like Formica countertops displaced by granite, they no longer seem sleek. Like gas-guzzling autos surpassed by hybrids, they can no longer claim the cutting edge. They are fully functional dinosaurs in a high-def age. They just aren’t, like Carroll’s new TV, flat.

“It’s amazing that nobody wants a perfectly good TV,” Carroll said. “It even has a remote.”

America’s unquenchable craving, even in a recession, for the latest and greatest in electronics, and the nation’s switch to digital television broadcasting in June, have combined to send consumers racing for flat-screen TVs — and has made them anxious to rid their homes of their tube-based relics. Carroll and others worry that nobody will take their old TVs, not even for free, and local governments are scrambling to stop the rejects, laden with lead, from being dumped in landfills or poor Asian countries.

“Our society consumes a lot of electronics, whether it be computers, cellphones, TiVos, stereos or TVs, and these days, these things have a very limited life span,” said Peter Karasik, who, as manager of Montgomery County’s transfer station has a canary-in-the-coal-mine view of the country’s electronics fashions.

In no segment of the electronics industry is the new supplanting the old faster than for boob tubes. Last year, 91 percent of the 37 million TVs sold in the United States had flat screens, according to the market research firm DisplaySearch. The number of tube TVs sold has fallen spectacularly, from 15.6 million in 2006 to 3.1 million last year. Asking a Best Buy salesman where the tube TVs are is a fail-safe way to induce giggles. The chain doesn’t sell them anymore.

As new TVs enter the home, many people hide the old ones in basements, garages or closets. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 99 million TVs were stored this way two years ago. But many TVs are simply tossed. In 2007, 27 million units were discarded, and 77 percent of them were tossed out with the trash (most of the rest are recycled).

Responding to potential landfill contamination, 18 states, including Virginia and Maryland, require manufacturers to help pay for electronics recycling. Montgomery County’s recycling program took in 122 tons of TVs in July, more than double the load in July of last year.

“Ever since the human being appeared, we’ve been hard-wired to hunt for better and bigger,” said Martin Lindstrom, a marketing guru and author of “Buyology.” “And that makes us think, ‘I don’t want to end up being the last person on planet Earth left with a CRT.’ ”

Carroll executed a succession plan in his District apartment: New flat screen is installed in living room, living room tube moves to the bedroom, the little Philips in the bedroom goes to Craigslist. Across the country, clunker pathways vary according to size of home and shape of family. Some TVs shift from bedrooms to basements to garages. Others migrate to college dorms. “It’s the TV shuffle,” Carroll said.

Things get trickier when the old TV is leaving the family entirely. Andrea Johnson and her fiance have found it difficult to get rid of her 20-inch Toshiba. She tried to sell it on Craigslist and got some responses, but then nobody showed to pick it up. Johnson, of Silver Spring, turned to hawking the TV through Facebook. That has generated a few bites from friends. “I actually feel better about doing it this way since I know it will go to a good home,” she said.

Carroll offered his TV free on Craigslist and got some interest, but no solid taker. If nothing clicks for Carroll and Johnson, their options include the dump, which neither prefers, and Goodwill, which still accepts donations of TVs if they are digital-ready. Goodwill no longer takes models lacking a coaxial cable connection. And there is recycling. In Montgomery, where Johnson lives, the government pays e-Structors, an Elkridge company, 7.2 cents a pound to pick up clunker TVs and strip them for parts. The recession has driven commodity prices so low that the material inside the TV is worth less than the cost of recycling it.

Several electronics companies, including Toshiba, offer free take-back programs. Johnson could take her Toshiba to one of four recycling centers in Maryland. Carroll, with a Philips, isn’t as fortunate. The company has no recycling program. Best Buy accepts clunker drop-offs at its stores, and its Geek Squad subsidiary will haul away an old TV when installing a new flat-screen.

Best Buy Geeks Brian Parsons and Denver Mowat arrived at Anton Garcia’s home in Bowie this week to install a 46-inch Sony flat-screen and home theater system. “Here goes my back,” Mowat predicted as he picked up Garcia’s 30-inch clunker, the latest in a long series. Parsons replied: “You’re 10 years younger than me. I don’t want to hear it.”

The Geeks removed the clunker without injury and plopped it on their truck to begin its journey to a recycling center. The Geeks returned a tad out of breath, set the 46-inch beauty on a stand and wired the room for surround sound.

Time to test the new gear: In went “Mission Impossible 3.” They switched off the lights. There was Tom Cruise. There was the sweat on his face. Garcia and the Geeks watched. And kept watching. Finally, after it appeared nobody was going to peel his eyes off the screen, Garcia delivered the buzz kill: “Well, I don’t want to keep you guys any longer.”

Read More

ET couldn’t resist the lure of product placement: The Times 19 September 2009

Thoughts for the week: ET couldn’t resist the lure of product placement. And neither will you.

Daniel Finkelstein

Back at the beginning of the 1980s, the Mars Corporation made a big mistake. It was approached by the director Steven Spielberg, who said he was making a film, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Spielberg explained that there was a scene in the movie in which his hero, the young Elliott, discovers the creature hiding in the woods. He lures him out with sweets, laid in a trail leading to his house.

Would Mars like to pay for the sweets to be M&M’s? Mars replied that, no, it wouldn’t.

Hershey’s gave a different reply. So when Elliott drops his sweets, it is Reese’s Pieces that act as bait for ET. The result? Within a week of the film’s opening, sales of Reese’s Pieces tripled. And more than 800 cinemas across the United States began to stock the sweet for the first time.

Something similar happened to the sales of Ray-Ban sunglasses after Tom Cruise wore them in Top Gun.

This week, the Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, announced a plan to allow product placement – the appearance of branded goods during programmes, for use, say, as props – on television. It is obvious why TV companies want this. But what about advertisers? Does product placement work? The ET story seems to wrap things up. Yes, of course it works. But Martin Lindstrom, who recounts the ET tale in his fascinating book Buyology, argues that it isn’t as simple as that.

Lindstrom’s interest, and the focus of his book, is what he calls neuromarketing. Not content with the traditional polling techniques – the survey, the focus group – neuromarketers want to look inside your head. Literally.

With the use of brain-scanning equipment, subjects have been tested, for instance, for their reaction to film trailers. A test of political reactions using campaign footage suggested the potency of fear as a determining factor in elections. The results persuaded the researchers that the technique could be used to design campaign ads.

Anyone concerned that politicians already use too much polling to guide their choices should note that the polling obsession might one day seem quaint.

So what does neuromarketing reveal about product placement? Using brain scans, Lindstrom tested reactions to the TV programme American Idol.

The programme featured three brands. The first was Coca-Cola. The show was saturated with the stuff. In front of each judge was a cup, the judges and contestants sat on chairs designed to look like Coke bottles, the contestants were filmed in a room painted Coke red, and so on.

Then there was Cingular Wireless (now AT&T), the only mobile phone carrier, as the host continually pointed out, that allowed viewers to text in their votes and whose logo was continually featured. The final sponsor, Ford, spent a fortune, but on traditional advertising spots specially designed for the programme (featuring its music, say, with contestants congregating around a Ford car).

The Lindstrom study attempted to discover whether the programme helped viewers to remember the logo of the featured companies more than those of the companies not featured.

The results were good news for Coke. Its product placement really seemed to work, planting the logo even more firmly in our brains. Cingular did well, too, but nowhere near as well as Coke. What about Ford? It wasted its money. Lindstrom notes that “in its post-programme test, we discovered that after viewing the shows, our subjects actually remembered less about the Ford commercials than they had before they entered the study”. They were drowned out by Coke.

How do neuromarketers account for this? Well, first, it is clear that traditional advertising has difficulty making an impact. By the time you are a pensioner you will have seen something in the region of two million TV commercials. If you are an average viewer, you will be able to recall about three of them.

Product placement, by contrast, can work. But it needs to be done with conviction. Lindstrom’s theory – but it is, in my view, just a theory – is that it is integration with the narrative that makes the crucial difference. Reese’s Pieces were part of the plot of ET. Ray-Bans were a big part of Tom Cruise’s cool image. And in American Idol Coke’s brand was weaved into the show. That was why, even though mentions were not as explicit, it did better (or so the author of Buyology suggests) than Cingular.

When product placement comes to your TV set, you are going to notice it. Because if you don’t, it won’t work.

Read More

What Price Fashion?: Vogue Magazine September 2009

With today’s shoppers looking for real value when they drop their dollars, designers are trying to keep quality high and costs low. Teri Agins reports.

Now that the fall styles are in, starring the season’s sequined minidresses, streamlined peacoats, and those towering gladiators, scores of anxious shoppers scrutinizing the shiny new merchandise are wondering aloud, Is this really worth $800?

In the weeks following the great economic meltdown of 2008, there was a bonanza of unexpected bargains ripe for the picking: Racks of $1,000 designer frocks were consigned to liquidation for as much as 70 percent off well before Thanksgiving. Stuck with an excess of seasonal stock, shell-shocked retailers had no other choice, erasing most of their profits along the way. Bloodied but unbowed, fashion houses large and small pressed the reset button this year. For months, the trend that buyers have been buzzing about is value. The new proposition put everybody on guard and drove prices down by as much as 20 percent at labels like Dolce & Gabbana and Moschino. Designers also dreamed up sharply priced novelties to balance out their collections. For example, Jil Sander’s Raf Simons turned out exquisite $1,300 dresses; at Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci added distinctive cotton blouses for as little as $440. Value now depends on conferring the truest bang for the buck.

Still, standouts like Lanvin’s $2,800 black sleeveless belted sheath remain on the market alongside sublime $175 wool-silk-jersey tanks trimmed in python-embossed pigskin from 3.1 Phillip Lim. More than in the past, luxury is about something that is special, that has a real authenticity. It isn’t so mass produced, says Julie Gilhart, fashion director at Barneys New York. It can also be found in a beautiful handwoven scarf from Bolivia that sells for under $300,she says. We’re moving into an era of transparency, when designers are being held more responsible for what they do.

Long before the recession hit, prices of high fashion had spiraled out of control, fueled in recent years by the rising cost of imported fabrics and labor from Europe. But even when the good times rolled, overpriced fashion no longer made any sense. Amid a declining demand for clothes and accessories, the biggest challenge for fashion houses is to better justify why things cost what they do. The luxury industry, in particular, needs to arm the consumer with the rational argument, as well as the emotional argument, why they need to buy that Louis Vuitton bag,observes Martin Lindstrom, marketing expert and author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. When it comes to fashion nowadays, he insists, there has to be that practical dimension.

Perhaps no designer lives by the rule of practicality more than Phillip Lim. The 36-year-old designer’s mantra: original design, packed with fine detailshand-stitching, bound buttonholes, gazar inner facingsat sensible prices. (A head-turning feather-and-sequin cocktail dress retails for $950.) He and business partner Wen Zhou never set their sights on couture but on beautiful, affordable clothes. Their Manhattan garment-district workroom is a model of discipline and restraint. They know the techniques and shortcuts that can give a piece the right wow factor while keeping retail prices reasonable.

The big secret here is that there is no waste,Lim says. He hasn’t fallen for the folly of fashion because he knows that overproduction and overexperimentation with samples burns up all your margins. He designs all women’s, men’s, and children’s collections with only three assistants and no stylists; the fewer cooks in the kitchen, the more he keeps from being second-guessed.

We produce only enough to cover the retail orders we get, he says. On the front end, Lim painstakingly maps out the collections a mix of half new and half repeat styles. Of the 240 pieces he created for fall 2009, he wound up manufacturing them all a perfect batting average which is pretty much the way he does it every season, says Zhou.

Amid declining demand, the biggest challenge for fashion houses is to better justify why things cost what they do

How can Lim estimate with such precision? I am merchandising and designing the line at the same time, he explains.

Lim appears to be from the same school as Lindstrom, who maintains that not only are the strongest consumer products fashionable, their many functions justify their worth. Case in point: a beautifully tailored $650 shadow-striped black wool blazer, which is actually two garments in one. Zip on its sequined lapels and it turns into a cocktail tuxedo jacket. Delightful extras like an inside breast pocket and underarm fabric dress shields are features you don’t often find even on $2,000 jackets. It comes as no surprise that retail buyers haven’t been pressuring Lim to lower his prices. Instead, he says, stores have been coming in and saying, I can’t believe that your prices aren’t higher. So they are ordering more.

Proenza Schouler opened its fall runway show with a color-block topper with billowy sleeves, a fantastic piece that was only $1,200, ordinarily an opening price point for our coats, says Shirley Cook, chief executive officer. We were superconscious about adding pieces that were versatile, that people could wear during the day.Already moving briskly since it arrived in stores in July: the very best skinny stretch-twill pant you’ve ever seenand it’s $550.

At the highest levels of the fashion pyramid, the world of small-scale production (by the dozens, not the thousands) and limited distribution, designers have no choice but to keep prices high, which is the only way these brands can deliver the best fabrics and the highest quality of craftsmanship. There will always be an affluent and discerning set unfazed by high prices, who prize top-tier exclusivity from the likes of Isabel Toledo, Azzedine Alaa, and Lanvin. But even those designers are conscious of today’s value mind-set.

Alber Elbaz has always had an enthusiastic audience for his day dresses, which can reach $4,000. But even he agrees that Lanvin has to lower our prices. Earlier this year he sprang into action, personally calling suppliers and factories seeking to shave costs. He also markets the 22 Faubourg label, which includes several pieces under $1,000.

Julie Macklowe, a hedge-fund-portfolio manager, attests that she has bought less this year and is putting more thought into what I buy. Yet she didn’t balk at splurging on the red Oscar de la Renta evening dress she wore to the Met’s Costume Institute Gala. It was a must-have, the only one in my size, that I will have forever, she says. It was not an impulse purchase.With loyal clients like Macklowe, the house of Oscar de la Renta is sanguine about its approach to the current retail climate. We still have the $10,000 and $12,000 evening gowns, all the things that we’ve always done, says Alex Bolen, chief executive. But the designer has expanded his resort collection to include lower-priced pieces that arrive in stores in December.

We have sharpened our pencil when it comes to the cost of fabric and labor for details like embroidery, to come up with the best value, Bolen says. We have opening price points that are well under $2,000, when the competition is in the high $2,000s or around $3,000. We are using the same silk fabrics and detailing, but we are also expanding more into cottons and silk blends. This is the moment when we are putting as much on the hanger as we can.

Read More

NBC TODAY Show: Kids Inc Part 2

This program first aired on 12th August 2009 at 7:45am EST

In this Part 2 of Kids Inc – Martin Lindstrom learn more about how the parents secretly observes the research and witness their reaction to their kids savvy-ness – and their shock at the reasons behind some of their brand choices. (If you’re looking for solutions you’ll like the ending!)

Read More

NBC Today Show: Kids Inc Part I

This program first aired on 11th August 2009 at 7:43am EST

We all know how kids are bombarded by marketing – but how does this translate into conscious recognition and decision making at the cash register? Watch this just released Today Morning Show series: Kids INC Todays Brand Savvy Tweens – as Martin Lindstrom works with a group of tweens to reveal their knowledge on brands – with some startling results.

Read More

May 1, 2009: TIME: Lindstrom one of the world’s most influential people

TIME magazine, arguably one of the world’s most respected publications, today announced that brand futurist and author Martin Lindstrom has been selected as one of the world’s 100 most influential people of 2009. The announcement will be made public in the next global edition of TIME magazine appearing on newsstands May 1st 2009.

Lindstrom has been selected in the category of Scientists & Thinkers for his groundbreaking work on neuroscience and branding. His latest book; Buyology – Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (Random House Broadway) – a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling book has been translated into 37 languages and is on almost all major best-seller lists worldwide. Buyology is based on the world’s largest neuroscience study on brands and advertising peering into the brains of 2,000 consumers across 5 countries. The results from the $7 million study question a range of conventional thinking within the advertising and marketing community.

“I am absolutely thrilled to bits about the TIME honor” Martin Lindstrom says. He continued, “Since I began this amazing journey some 4 years ago my mission has been to introduce a new and more reliable way to understand our unconscious mind in a commercial context. Today 9 out of 10 new brands fail and the main reason they fail is because conventional research simply no longer works. Something new is required, and that ‘something’ is a combination of science and marketing.

“The fact that TIME feels my work has had such strong influence on the world gives me hope that we’re on the right path to uncovering the next generation of branding and advertising.”

The TIME 100 list is an annual event which over the past decade has included personalities such as U.S. president Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, the Dali Lama, Pope Benedict XVI, Steve Jobs, Hillary Clinton, Rupert Murdoch and Nelson Mandela.

The honor is given to people recognized for changing the world within one of five categories: Leaders & Revolutionaries, Builders & Titans, Artists & Entertainers, Scientists & Thinkers, and Heroes & Icons. Within each category, the 20 most influential people (sometimes pairs or small groups) are selected, for a grand total of 100 each year. Managing editor of TIME magazine; Richard Strengelis says: “Influence is hard to measure, and what we look for is people whose ideas, whose example, whose talent, whose discoveries transform the world we live in. Influence is less about the hard power of force than the soft power of ideas and example.”

Read More

Today Show: Why you buy what you buy

Appeared on TODAY on Thursday 8/1/09

Author Martin Lindstrom sits down with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira to talk about his new book, “Buyology: Truth and Lies About What We Buy,” which explains the scientific reasoning behind purchasing habit. Martin discusses how marketers use subliminal advertising in a new way to bolster their brand recognition.

Read More

Parade Magazine: How Subliminal Advertising Works

By Branding Advisor Martin Lindstrom
Publication Date: 4th of January, 2009

“Make it bigger,” the executive suggested as I scrambled to sign off on an ad on behalf of a major fashion brand. I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised. For as long as I can remember, the size and placement of a product’s logo has been the holiest grail of branding.

But considering that by retirement age the average American has watched roughly 2 million TV commercials (and no doubt been exposed to an equivalent number of billboard ads), has the logo overstayed its welcome? In a multimillion-dollar global neuro-marketing study dubbed Project Buyology, I decided to peer inside consumers’ brains to find out.

Over the years I’ve been perplexed by the fact that despite worldwide tobacco-advertising bans and astronomical government investment in anti-smoking initiatives, global consumers continue to inhale 5,765 billion cigarettes a year–and that’s not even including the huge duty-free or international black market trades.

The World Bank projects that the number of tobacco users is only going to shoot up further–from a current level of 1.4 billion smokers to roughly 1.6 billion by 2025. Four-year-old kids know about the health dangers of smoking; so why, pray tell, do brands like Marlboro and Camel still rank as among the most powerful in the world?

If experts generally agree that 85% of everything we do takes place in our subconscious minds, it seemed only fitting to target the human brain. Project Buyology, the largest project of its kind, enlisted roughly 2,000 volunteers worldwide, who agreed to submit themselves to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a type of brain scan, while viewing various cigarette-marketing related imagery.

Over the years, I’ve turned down numerous entreaties from tobacco companies to work for their cause (if you want to call killing people a cause). For ethical reasons, I’ve always said no. But that hasn’t kept me from distantly–and, admittedly, perversely–admiring these companies’ tricks and strategies.

My question was this: Can the desire to smoke be triggered by images merely associated with a brand: images of a camel, a windswept desert, a rugged-looking cowboy or Marlboro’s well-known sponsorship of the European Formula One racing circuit, which has forged an inextricable link between smoking and the company’s bright red Ferraris? Do smokers even need to process the logos “Marlboro” or “Camel” for the craving spots in their brains to become activated?

Over a two-month period, Project Buyology exposed both social and long-time smokers, as well as non-smokers, to a raft of suggestive images as the fMRI painstakingly scanned their brains.

First, both groups were shown subliminal images that had no overt connection to cigarette brands–those he-man cowboys, sunsets, camels and deserts. Next, they were shown explicit cigarette advertising images including the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel hunched over his motorcycle, as well as the Marlboro and Camel logos. Our goal was to determine if the subliminal images would generate similar cravings to those generated both by the logos and by the clearly marked Marlboro and Camel packs.

Not surprisingly, as they viewed the actual cigarette packs, the MRI scans revealed a pronounced response in our smokers’ nucleus accumbens, a small region in the brain associated with reward, craving and addiction. Far more intriguing was that when the smokers were briefly exposed to the subliminal imagery, their nucleus accumbens lit up even more pronouncedly in the same regions they had when they viewed the explicit images of the packs and logos.

In other words, the iconic imagery merely associated with Camels and Marlboros, such as the Ferrari and the Western sunset, brought on a higher craving activation than either the logos or the actual pictures on the cigarette packs themselves.

But wait a second–why? Well, whether it’s due to brand boredom, increased media sophistication or consumers’ by-now cast-iron defense mechanisms, when we’re exposed to logos, our guards go up. We know we’re being manipulated, and we’ll do anything in our power to prevent that logo from winning.

So in practical terms, what does our research experiment portend? Think about this: Nearly a century ago, when the first-ever Coca-Cola bottle was in the planning stages, the designer received his marching orders. Company executives wanted him to develop a bottle so distinctive that if you smashed it against a wall, you’d still be able to recognize the pieces as part of a Coke bottle. The designer did what he was told, and to this day it works.

For obvious reasons, I call this philosophy “Smash Your Brand.” Even back in 1915, Coke’s aim was to replace its logo with a “smashable” component. Today, “smashable” could mean anything from a color, a shape, a sound, a fragrance, a design or any other indirect signal that tells a subtle, suggestive and logo-free story.

See that new iPod Touch over there? Where, on its front, is the word “Apple” spelled out? Nowhere. Did you happen to catch Disney’s Pixar’s latest flick, Wall-E? Did the white, gleaming female robot heroine put you in mind of anything in particular (such as any one of several Apple products)? That familiar sloping roof, that robin’s-egg-blue box–are you thinking, as I am, of McDonald’s and Tiffany?

Instead of flashing another logo, or bringing out yet another forgettable movie product placement–all of which will only induce consumers to respond defensively and critically–in the future the simple power of suggestion will entice customers to accompany advertisers on a journey, at the same time engaging their subconscious minds.

No, the logo isn’t dead yet, but it’s on life support. My prediction? That the battle for consumer loyalty and cash will no longer take place in our conscious minds. The ultimate decision-making process of whether we buy something will happen at the deepest levels in the human brain. Until recently, these places were out of reach. But thanks to the unlikely pairing of neuroscience and marketing, we’re beginning to understand the secrets of our own human Buyology.

Read More

New York Times: Inhaling Fear

By Martin Lindstrom
Published Date: December 11, 2008

TEN years ago, in settling the largest civil lawsuit in American history, Big Tobacco agreed to pay the 50 states $246 billion, which they’ve used in part to finance efforts to prevent smoking. The percentage of American adults who smoke has fallen since then to just over 20 percent from nearly 30 percent, but smoking is still the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States, and smoking-related health care costs more than $167 billion a year.

To reduce this cost, the incoming Obama administration should abandon one antismoking strategy that isn’t working.

A key component of the Food and Drug Administration’s approach to smoking prevention is to warn about health dangers: Smoking causes fatal lung cancer; smoking causes emphysema; smoking while pregnant causes birth defects. Compared with warnings issued by other nations, these statements are low-key. From Canada to Thailand, Australia to Brazil, warnings on cigarette packs include vivid images of lung tumors, limbs turned gangrenous by peripheral vascular disease and open sores and deteriorating teeth caused by mouth and throat cancers. In October, Britain became the first European country to require similar gruesome images on packaging.

But such warnings don’t work. Worldwide, people continue to inhale 5.7 trillion cigarettes annually. A figure that doesn’t even take into account duty-free or black-market cigarettes. According to World Bank projections, the number of smokers is expected to reach 1.6 billion by 2025, from the current 1.3 billion.

A brain-imaging experiment I conducted in 2006 explains why antismoking scare tactics have been so futile. I examined people’s brain activity as they reacted to cigarette warning labels by using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a scanning technique that can show how much oxygen and glucose a particular area of the brain uses while it works, allowing us to observe which specific regions are active at any given time.

We tested 32 people (from Britain, China, Germany, Japan and the United States), some of whom were social smokers and some of whom were two-pack-a-day addicts. Most of these subjects reported that cigarette warning labels reduced their craving for a cigarette, but their brains told us a different story.

Each subject lay in the scanner for about an hour while we projected on a small screen a series of cigarette package labels from various countries, including statements like smoking kills and smoking causes fatal lung cancers.We found that the warnings prompted no blood flow to the amygdala, the part of the brain that registers alarm, or to the part of the cortex that would be involved in any effort to register disapproval.

To the contrary, the warning labels backfired: they stimulated the nucleus accumbens, sometimes called the craving spot,which lights up on f.M.R.I. whenever a person craves something, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, tobacco or gambling.

Further investigation is needed, but our study has already revealed an unintended consequence of antismoking health warnings. They appear to work mainly as a marketing tool to keep smokers smoking.

Barack Obama has said he’s been using nicotine gum to fight his own cigarette habit. His new administration can help other smokers quit, too, by eliminating the government scare tactics that only increase people’s craving.

Read More

Parade Magazine: Buyer Beware

By Martin Lindstrom
Publication Date: 30th of November, 2008

What really goes on in our minds when we face the decision to buy something? That’s what I and a team of researchers tried to find out by studying the brains of shoppers around the world as they encountered various products, ads, and sales. Knowing the science behind what influences us to make purchases whether they’re needed or not can help us resist temptation. Here are five tips to help you make it through your shopping experience without breaking the bank.

Leave the Kids At Home

Consumers accompanied by children bought 40% more items than consumers who were shopping by themselves. Children, bless their little hearts, tend to use a variety of techniques to coax their parents into buying more stuff. These can range from negotiation (I’ll clean up my room if you buy me those Lucky Charms) to threats (screaming, crying, having a tantrum in the middle of the store) to sneaking the things they want underneath your other purchases. When you finally get to the cash register, chances are good that you’ll be too embarrassed or worried about coming across as mean or cheap to say anything.

Watch Out for Fake Bargains
The way signs and words are used can have a powerful effect on our brains. Take one store’s display of canned chicken-noodle soup. A sign above it read $1.95 per can. Customers pushed right past the pyramid of cans because $1.95 sounded like way too much money for chicken-noodle anything. The next day, a new sign left off the price and said, Maximum 8 cans per customer. The result: customers waiting in line. Another example: You pass by a box of spaghetti marked $2.50. A few days later, the same box features a sign reading 2 for $5. You don’t consider that it’s the same price. You’re too busy snatching up as many boxes as you can.

Both of these bargains stimulate our natural hoarding instinct. A small region in the prefrontal cortex of our brains is associated with collecting. Scientists believe that it reacts as it did earlier in our evolution, when food supplies may have been scarce. In other words, we’re hardwired to respond to shortages by doing all we can to ensure our survival. The result? A lot of soup and a lot of pasta.

Avoid Big Carts
Strange but true: People buy roughly 30% more items when they shop with a big cart than when they don’t. And the bigger the cart we’re wheeling around the store, the more likely we are to stock it full of stuff we probably don’t need.

What’s the reason for this phenomenon? I believe consumers become self-conscious if their big shopping cart contains, say, only a celebrity magazine and a few sticks of gum. It’s as though we expect other shoppers to look down on us or even make a disparaging comment. Another thing: If our cart is enormous, the dopamine levels in our brain increase, and we begin pulling things down from the shelf to fill up every square inch. Dopamine is one of the most addictive chemicals our brain produces. It increases in anticipation of any kind of reward, and that includes food and clothing.

My suggestion: Avoid a shopping cart altogether and use a small basket with handles.

Don’t Sniff!
Ever wonder why more and more supermarkets are installing bakeries, rotisserie-chicken grills, salad bars, and snack-food outposts so near their entrances? It’s because smells can entice us into buying food even if we don’t really want it (and especially if we’re shopping on an empty stomach).

Smell is our most primal human sense. When we sniff something, the odor receptors in our noses make a beeline to our limbic system, which governs our emotions, memories, and sense of well-being. The fragrance of just-baked bread, for example, not only gives off a signal of freshness, it also evokes powerful feelings of comfort and domesticity. Supermarkets know that when the aroma of baking bread or doughnuts hits your nose, you’ll get hungry and start picking up food you had no intention of buying. (Not just bread, butter, and jam, either, but all kinds of produce.) Our gut response is instantaneous, meaning we don’t stand a chance. So bulk up before you go out.

Beware Of Shopaholism
Leave your credit cards at home when you shop. Using a debit card is OK, since it draws money directly from your checking or savings account. But when we slap down a credit card, we often feel as though we have unlimited funds at our disposal. That is, until the monthly statement shows up.

There are roughly 17 million shopaholics in the United States people addicted to the feelings of reward, pleasure, and well-being that the brain chemical dopamine produces.

The average American household has accumulated about $10,000 in credit-card debt. As most consumers know, it can take years and a whole lot of self-discipline to dig yourself out of this hole. Don’t get into one if you can help it.

Read More

Forbes: Beyond the Brand

By Branding Expert Martin Lindstorm
Published Date: 21st of November 2008

“Make it bigger,” the executive suggested as I scrambled to sign off on an ad on behalf of a major fashion brand. I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised. For as long as I can remember, the size and placement of a product’s logo has been the holiest grail of branding.

But considering that by retirement age the average American has watched roughly 2 million TV commercials (and no doubt been exposed to an equivalent number of billboard ads), has the logo overstayed its welcome? In a multimillion-dollar global neuro-marketing study dubbed Project Buyology, I decided to peer inside consumers’ brains to find out.Over the years I’ve been perplexed by the fact that despite worldwide tobacco-advertising bans and astronomical government investment in anti-smoking initiatives, global consumers continue to inhale 5,765 billion cigarettes a year–and that’s not even including the huge duty-free or international black market trades.

The World Bank projects that the number of tobacco users is only going to shoot up further–from a current level of 1.4 billion smokers to roughly 1.6 billion by 2025. Four-year-old kids know about the health dangers of smoking; so why, pray tell, do brands like Marlboro and Camel still rank as among the most powerful in the world?

If experts generally agree that 85% of everything we do takes place in our subconscious minds, it seemed only fitting to target the human brain. Project Buyology, the largest project of its kind, enlisted roughly 2,000 volunteers worldwide, who agreed to submit themselves to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a type of brain scan, while viewing various cigarette-marketing related imagery. Over the years, I’ve turned down numerous entreaties from tobacco companies to work for their cause (if you want to call killing people a cause). For ethical reasons, I’ve always said no. But that hasn’t kept me from distantly–and, admittedly, perversely–admiring these companies’ tricks and strategies.

My question was this: Can the desire to smoke be triggered by images merely associated with a brand: images of a camel, a windswept desert, a rugged-looking cowboy or Marlboro’s well-known sponsorship of the European Formula One racing circuit, which has forged an inextricable link between smoking and the company’s bright red Ferraris? Do smokers even need to process the logos “Marlboro” or “Camel” for the craving spots in their brains to become activated?

Read More