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Are We Being 'Brandwashed'?

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Are we aware of the psychological tricks and traps some marketers use to lure us into purchasing specific brands? Just because most of us at the Daily Fix are involved in marketing doesn't mean that we can't be affected by our colleagues' ruses.

No matter how smart we think we are, I guarantee we've all fallen prey to a marketing enticement trick or two. I know I have.

While working out recently, I watched an interesting segment on the Today Show about a branding experiment conducted by author and branding/consumer behavior expert, Martin Lindstrom. In it, a California couple agreed to promote specific brands to their friends and social circle in everyday conversations and at parties that they hosted. At the end of the three-month period, the results were staggering:

  • 9 out of 10 brands were bought.

  • One brand had a 1,000% sales increase.

  • An estimated 13,000 people were affected by the couple.

Now, maybe our pal, Daily Fix blogger, author, and word-of-mouth marketing guru, Andy Sernovitz wouldn't be surprised by this, but others may.

Admittedly, I haven't yet read Lindstrom's book, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, but based on the experiment and book reviews, I am certainly intrigued.

I could never have imagined that some companies begin marketing to babies in the womb. Or that shoppers in U.S. department stores who are exposed to Muzak with a slow tempo shop 18% longer and purchase 17% more than do those who shop in silence. Or that peddling panic and paranoia was so ubiquitous.

What's even more interesting is Lindstrom's take on it all.
"Whenever I meet up with executives around the world, I remind them that today the most powerful force in marketing is not a corporation. It's not a CEO. It's not a big-budget marketing department. Today and in the future, the people who hold the real power are hyperconnected, mouse-clicking consumers and their wide circles of virtual and real-life friends and acquaintances. In other words, the people who hold the real power are us.

"As a result, brands of the future simply must be transparent and live up to their promises. Trust me (and you marketers out there take note), any brand that doesn't will be instantly and painfully exposed and reviled."

Your turn: Were you aware of these types of brandwashing  tricks and tools? Have you ever been duped by them? Do you think marketers should continue to employ these tactics, or do you think they are unethical? WEIGH IN!

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A Canadian who relocated to the U.S., Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of SOLUTIONS Marketing & Consulting LLC, a boutique marketing and communications agency located in Scottsdale, Arizona. During her career, Elaine has worked for, and with, many organizations, associations, and businesses, across North America, on marketing strategy and communications tactics.

From her earlier agency career assignments freelance copywriting Procter & Gamble, Nestlé Carnation, and Kraft materials, to “inside” senior-level marketing positions, Elaine’s passion for marketing has evolved to helping clients reach new heights through strategic brand-building, integrated marketing communications, and customer orientation.

She has been a contributing writer for The Business Journal and her articles have appeared in many publications, including the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Marketing News, The Arizona Republic, Advancing Philanthropy, and several association publications. She has been interviewed by CNN, Connect Magazine, and The Capitol Times, and her content was included in Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits by Jay Conrad Levinson, Frank Adkins, and Chris Forbes. Nonprofit Consulting Essentials by Penelope Cagney. and Share of Mind, Share of Heart by Sybil F. Stershic.

Elaine is a Faculty Associate at the Arizona State University Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation and a professional member of the National Speakers Association – she does keynotes and presentations on business and nonprofit marketing, branding, customer orientation, and cause marketing at conferences and meetings.

Elaine’s career has also included stints as a cookbook author, teacher, singer, and television show host. A golf and tennis enthusiast, Elaine is enjoying life in the sunny Sonoran Desert while serving clients across North America.

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  • by Alex Mon Oct 17, 2011 via blog

    What "brandwashing" tricks and tools are you talking about? Sorry but this article is devoid of any real content, apart from a brief mention of the power of word of mouth. Or is this article just a veiled trick to get us to buy Lindstrom's book? Would love to have heard about some of the actual tricks used by brands.

  • by Kevin Alvarez Mon Oct 17, 2011 via blog

    The entire movies "Keeping Up With the Jones" is based on this. As I was watching it, I knew the film was based on real-world tactics but I had no idea that there was an actual book about the subject. As a an internet marketing consultant, I help my clients try to make connections to key influencers within their industry but the interaction must be authentic.

    Here is the link to the trailer "Keeping Up With The Joneses".

    Thanks for sharing this article. I am interested in reading Martin Lindstrom's book - yet now I wonder if this article was just an attempt to "brainwash" me into buying it. LOL. Just kidding. I think.

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Oct 17, 2011 via blog

    Hi, Alex. I don't know Lindstrom at all, but I found the experiment fascinating. If you click on the link above, you can see the segment about it.

    I included a few examples of the tricks Lindstrom includes in his book. There are more in this book review by Roger Dooley on his blog: Neuromarketing.

    Thanks for your candor.

  • by Ethan Beute Mon Oct 17, 2011 via blog

    Should the experiment be deployed more broadly as a proper tactic, it would certainly qualify as a "trick." You can't get much lower than taking cash to to pimp specific brands to your family and friends. It reminds me of all the talk of "buzz agents" a decade or so back - pre-online social networking.

    The Dooley post certainly provided several more interesting examples (cantaloupe boxes, potato sacks, chocolate chunks, etc.). I'm with you, Elaine - seems intriguing. Revealing these tactics to the masses is the next step in a general "media awareness" curriculum.

  • by amit Mon Oct 17, 2011 via blog

    There was a movie made about this exact thing in 2009 called "meet the joneses".

  • by Elaine Fogel Tue Oct 18, 2011 via blog

    LOL, Kevin. I still need to buy it and read it, too! :) Thanks for the link.

  • by Elaine Fogel Tue Oct 18, 2011 via blog

    I agree with your take on "pimping" brands, Ethan. In the case of this experiment, the couple came clean with their friends and family afterwards. But, it does underscore the need for authenticity. And, I agree about educating the masses. In fact, I believe it is incumbent on school districts to include media education in their curricula. That's where it should begin.

    Thanks for weighing in!

  • by Elaine Fogel Tue Oct 18, 2011 via blog

    Thanks, Amit. Kevin beat you to it. :)

  • by Veronica Maria Jarski Wed Oct 19, 2011 via blog

    Word of mouth is just so hugely powerful!

    Just recently, in my circle of friends, someone mentioned a movie that they had just seen ... She was so convincing in how good it was that now about 10 of us (so far!) have seen this movie. And she was right. It was excellent. It's not just because she's my friend that I went to see the movie, but it's because she understands what we all like, what would concern us about the movie, etc. It was like having a movie review specifically crafted to our needs. And most importantly, her pitch worked; none of us were disappointed by it.

    Fortunately, my friend wasn't paid to pitch the movie nor was she part of an experiment!

    (At least, I don't think so ... )

  • by Elaine Fogel Wed Oct 19, 2011 via blog

    OK, now you have my attention. You've got to share, Veronica. Which movie? :)

  • by Elaine Fogel Thu Oct 20, 2011 via blog

    Thanks, Christa. Somehow, I think the marketers who practice "brandwashing" will see brand journalism as a completely different animal. Perhaps your suggestion works better in the B2B world.

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