Brandwashed, a new book from leading marketing researcher Martin Lindstrom, reveals how brands exert their influence over us in the most subtle of ways.
What prompted you to write the book?
Since I released my first book in 1995, Brand Building on the Internet, I’ve assumed the role of a ‘brand futurist’ – predicting what’s next. My last five books have contained some interesting predictions before their time – like my 1995 prediction that in the future some of the world’s most powerful brands would be online brands – with only a online presence. Remember, this prediction was made the same year as the world wide web was invented. Or my 2003 prediction that every kid would become a living brand with a online presence – a page that would be like their ‘colour brochure’ promoting them and their lives. If they weren’t be online they would be dead for the rest of the world. A couple of years later, Facebook was invented.
It’s become clear for me that ethics will be the next big thing. We’ve never seen a Wall Street type of occupation before, and it’s likely we’ll soon see a Wikileaks for brands – a website disclosing all the stuff going on behind the scenes.
Brands need to become friends with the consumer again, simply because consumers now have more power than them. So how do you address such a topic that by nature seems a bit dull? I’m sure if the title of the book was Ethics in Advertising you wouldn’t read it, right? My goal was to warn the group of companies that have gone too far to clean up their act before it’s too late, and at the same time give the consumer an honest heads-up on what’s going on.
The only way I can make you read a book like this is to go straight to the point – to be provocative like hell – and tell it like it is. Don’t forget I was one of the ‘evil’ once – I love brands and I’ve worked with brands since I was 12 – but it’s also clear to me that if brands don’t clean up their acts there’ll be a serious problem ahead. That’s what Brandwashed is all about.
What is the relationship between your previous book Buyology and Brandwashed?
My last two books are written to consumers – it just happens that business people are reading them too. The fact is that we don’t read business books any more – I haven’t read a business book for 15 years. That’s why I decided to write my books in an easy, entertaining yet informative way – to take the best from both worlds. That said, Brandwashed builds on the consequences of Buyology. Having so many powerful tools in hand as a marketer, and as the consumer is gaining more and more power due to the social media space, there’s a ticking time bomb ahead. I felt now was the right time to turn the focus against myself, my industry and what we do – to not only make us clean up our act but also at the same time to explore what’s happening, what’s next and what are the consequences.
What was your most surprising discovery when researching the book?
A lot. The lipbalm story (that some manufacturers are putting chemicals into the product in order to make it become addictive), or the fact that some manufacturer in Asia are priming kids before they’re even born in order to generate brand loyalty. On an ethical note, my opinion is that the context and purpose decides if this is acceptable or not. If I need you to lose weight, quit smoking, drink less, or spend more time with your kids, I’m comfortable about using the entire portfolio of tricks in the bag, but sometimes it simply doesn’t make sense. That’s the reason why I (in partnership with 2,200 consumers) have developed a list of new ethical guidelines – one of the starting points is don’t do to kids what you wouldn’t do to your own, and don’t do to consumers what you wouldn’t do to your closest friends and family members.
What is the most effective thing a brand can do to raise its profile?
To have courage to stand out from the crowd. Brands today are totally scared about standing out – my mantra is if you haven’t offended anyone, you haven’t done your work.
Have you become far more aware personally of how you are manipulated?
Yes, very much, and I have a daily fight with myself when I’m buying stuff – it’s fun, but it’s also forced me to question my own ethical views. I’ve come to realise that our ethical views change with age and experience and that we all in the future will have to have our own ethical guidelines.
What are your own favourite brands?
LEGO, Google, Skype and Louis Vuitton.
What would be your top three to five brands in terms of holding the biggest influence over consumers?
Well you’re probably not surprised about this: Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft – the last one from a rational point of view, not emotionally.
What’s the worst thing a brand can do?
To let the consumer down, to over- exaggerate, to lie, to hide the truth – in short, not to be transparent.