Not surprisingly, the smokers were on edge, ﬁdgety, not sure what to expect.
Barely noticing the rain and overcast skies, they clumped together outside the medical building in London, England, that houses the Centre for NeuroImaging Sciences. Some were self- described social smokers–a cigarette in the morning, a second snuck in during lunch hour, maybe half-a- dozen more if they went out carousing with their friends at night. Others confessed to being longtime two-pack-a-day addicts. All of them pledged their allegiance to a single brand, whether it was Marlboros or Camels. Under the rules of the study, they knew they wouldn’t be allowed to smoke for the next four hours, so they were busy stockpiling as much tar and nicotine inside their systems as they could. In between drags, they swapped lighters, matches, smoke rings, apprehensions: Will this hurt? George Orwell would love this. Do you think the machine will be able to read my mind?
Inside the building, the setting was, as beﬁts a medical laboratory, antiseptic, no- nonsense, and soothingly soulless–all cool white corridors and ﬂannel gray doors. As the study got under way I took a perch behind a wide glass window inside a cockpit-like control booth among a cluster of desks, digital equipment, three enormous computers, and a bunch of white-smocked researchers. I was looking over a room dominated by an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanner, an enormous, $4 million machine that looks like a giant sculpted doughnut, albeit one with a very long, very hard tongue. As the most advanced brain- scanning technique available today, fMRI measures the magnetic properties of hemoglobin, the components in red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. In other words, fMRI measures the amount of oxygenated blood throughout the brain and can pinpoint an area as small as one millimeter (that’s 0.03937 of an inch). You see, when a brain is operating on a speciﬁc task, it demands more fuel–mainly oxygen and glucose. So the harder a region of the brain is working, the greater its fuel consumption, and the greater the ﬂow of oxygenated blood will be to that site. So during fMRI, when a portion of the brain is in use, that region will light up like a red-hot ﬂare. By tracking this activation, neuroscientists can determine what speciﬁc areas in the brain are working at any given time.
Neuroscientists traditionally use this 32-ton, SUV-sized instrument to diagnose tumors, strokes, joint injuries, and other medical conditions that frustrate the abilities of X-rays and CT scans. Neuropsychiatrists have found fMRI useful in shedding light on certain hard-to-treat psychiatric conditions, including psychosis, sociopathy, and bipolar illness. But those smokers pufﬁng and chatting and pacing in the waiting room weren’t ill or in any kind of distress. Along with a similar sample of smokers in the United States, they were carefully chosen participants in a groundbreaking neuromarketing study who were helping me get to the bottom–or the brain–of a mystery that had been confounding health professionals, cigarette companies, and smokers and nonsmokers alike for decades.
For a long time, I’d noticed how the prominently placed health warnings on cigarette boxes seemed to have bizarrely little, if any, effect on smokers. Smoking causes fatal lung cancer. Smoking causes emphysema. Smoking while pregnant causes birth defects.
Fairly straightforward stuff. Hard to argue with. And those are just the soft- pedaled American warnings. European cigarette makers place their warnings in coal-black, Magic Marker—thick frames, making them even harder to miss. In Portugal, dwarfing the dromedary on Camel packs, are words even a kid could understand: Fumar Mata.
Smoking kills. But nothing comes even close to the cigarette warnings from Canada, Thailand, Australia, Brazil–and soon the U.K. They’re gorily, forensically true-to-life, showing full- color images of lung tumors, gangrenous feet and toes, and the open sores and disintegrating teeth that accompany mouth and throat cancers.
You’d think these graphic images would stop most smokers in their tracks. So why, in 2006, despite worldwide tobacco advertising bans, outspoken and frequent health warnings from the medical community, and massive government investment in antismoking campaigns, did global consumers continue to smoke a whopping 5,763 billion cigarettes, a ﬁgure which doesn’t include duty-free cigarettes, or the huge international black market trade? (I was once in an Australian convenience store where I overheard the clerk asking a smoker, “Do you want the pack with the picture of the lungs, the heart, or the feet?” How often did this happen, I asked the clerk? Fifty percent of the time that customers asked for cigarettes, he told me.) Despite what is now known about smoking, it’s estimated that about one-third of adult males across the globe continue to light up. Approximately 15 billion cigarettes are sold every day–that’s 10 million cigarettes sold a minute. In China, where untold millions of smokers believe that cigarettes can cure Parkinson’s disease, relieve symptoms of schizophrenia, boost the efﬁcacy of brain cells, and improve their performance at work, over 300 million people,1 including 60 percent of all male doctors, smoke. With annual sales of 1.8 trillion cigarettes, the Chinese monopoly is responsible for roughly one-third of all cigarettes being smoked on earth today2–a large percentage of the 1.4 billion people using tobacco, which, according to World Bank projections, is expected to increase to roughly 1.6 billion by 2025 (though China consumes more cigarettes than the United States, Russia, Japan, and Indonesia combined).
In the Western world, nicotine addiction still ranks as an enormous concern. Smoking is the biggest killer in Spain today, with ﬁfty thousand smoking- related deaths annually. In the U.K., roughly one-third of all adults under the age of sixty-ﬁve light up, while approximately 42 percent of people under sixty-ﬁve are exposed to tobacco smoke at home.3 Twelve times more British people have died from smoking than died in World War II. According to the American Lung Association, smoking- related diseases affect roughly 438,000 American lives a year, “including those affected indirectly, such as babies born prematurely due to prenatal maternal smoking and victims of ‘secondhand’ exposure to tobacco’s carcinogens.” The health-care costs in the United States alone? Over $167 billion a year.4 And yet cigarette companies keep coming up with innovative ways to kill us. For example, Philip Morris’s latest weapon against workplace smoking bans is Marlboro Intense, a smaller, high-tar cigarette–seven puffs worth–that can be consumed in stolen moments in between meetings, phone calls, and PowerPoint presentations.5
It makes no sense. Are smokers selectively blind to warning labels? Do they think, to a man or a woman, Yes, but I’m the exception here
? Are they showing the world some giant act of bravado? Do they secretly believe they are immortal? Or do they know the health dangers and just not care?
That’s what I was hoping to use fMRI technology to ﬁnd out. The thirty-two smokers in today’s study? They were among the 2,081 volunteers from America, England, Germany, Japan, and the Republic of China that I’d enlisted for the largest, most revolutionary neuromarketing experiment in history.
It was twenty-ﬁve times larger than any neuromarketing study ever before attempted. Using the most cutting-edge scientiﬁc tools available, it revealed the hidden truths behind how branding and marketing messages work on the human brain, how our truest selves react to stimuli at a level far deeper than conscious thought, and how our unconscious minds control our behavior (usually the opposite of how we think
we behave). In other words, I’d set off on a quest to investigate some of the biggest puzzles and issues facing consumers, businesses, advertisers, and governments today.
For example, does product placement really work? (The answer, I found out, is a qualiﬁed no.) How powerful are brand logos? (Fragrance and sound are more potent than any logo alone.) Does subliminal advertising still take place? (Yes, and it probably inﬂuenced what you picked up at the convenience store the other day.) Is our buying behavior affected by the world’s major religions? (You bet, and increasingly so.) What effect do disclaimers and health warnings have on us? (Read on.) Does sex in advertising work (not really) and how could it possibly get more explicit than it is now? (You just watch.)
Beginning in 2004, from start to ﬁnish, our study took up nearly three years of my life, cost approximately $7 million (provided by eight multinational companies), comprised multiple experiments, and involved thousands of subjects from across the globe, as well as two hundred researchers, ten professors and doctors, and an ethics committee. And it employed two of the most sophisticated brain- scanning instruments in the world: the fMRI and an advanced version of the electroencephalograph known as the SST, short for steady-state typography, which tracks rapid brain waves in real time. The research team was overseen by Dr. Gemma Calvert, who holds the Chair in Applied Neuroimaging at the University of Warwick, England, and is the founder of Neurosense in Oxford, and Professor Richard Silberstein, the CEO of Neuro-Insight in Australia. And the results? Well, all I’ll say for now is that they’ll transform the way you think ab...
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"Lindstrom...has an original, inquisitive mind...His new book is a fascinating look at how consumers perceive logos, ads, commercials, brands, and products."
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-Philip Kotler, Ph.D., S. C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
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Lindstrom can be a charming writer. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of advertising history and an abundance of real-world business experienceFrom the Hardcover edition.