Warning – You’re About to be Brandwashed

Some time ago three sommeliers were asked to participate in an unusual experiment. They were placed in an fMRI scanner where they were served three different wines, and then they were asked to evaluate them.  You’d imagine this to be a fairly simple task for people who taste wine for a living. Not so.

They were all in agreement on the first bottle of cheap red – they would not be recommending this to anyone. Their brains were all in sync. The scans matched their opinions – this was not a wine to be recommended. The second bottle, a medium-priced wine, was served. Again, the sommeliers were in agreement. They judged it to be fairly ordinary, but definitely drinkable. And again, their scans supported their evaluation. A similar story emerged with the very expensive third bottle. The sommeliers thought it simply superb.

Then there was a surprise announcement. The sommeliers were told that there was in fact no difference between the wines. The price tag was a hoax. The only real distinction was in the way the wine was served.

The brain scans revealed an unusual activity. While the sommeliers were busy tasting, the centre of the brain associated with taste seemed convinced there was a distinct difference in quality. But within moments of being told it was not so, they could no longer distinguish the difference. They were not lying. Rather their taste preferences in the brain had adjusted to the information and showed a clear change of mind.

As I describe in my new book Brandwashed, we’re all controlled by perception. In fact 85 percent of everything we do in a day occurs in our subconscious. Little things, like when we select the second magazine from the top of the pile in the newsstand. Or the fact that women tend to use the second or third stall in a public toilet, even though the first stall by far is the cleanest.

It seems the more rational we think we are, the more irrational we tend to become. Perhaps this explains why we purchase 7 percent more if we navigate a supermarket in a counter-clockwise direction, buy 37 percent more when we wheel a larger shopping cart, or eat 29 percent more if the rhythm of the music in a restaurant is less than 20 beats per second. Ironically, the truth is our rational mind fully believes it was in control from the very beginning.

So, before you select a bottle of wine, pick a magazine, visit the supermarket, or have a meal at your local restaurant, be aware of the fact that even though you believe you’re in control, you might very well be perfectly positioned for a brandwashing.


Martin Lindstrom’s new book, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy is now available.  His work, Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy was a New York Times Bestseller.

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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