Martin Lindstrom Answers Your Questions on Brandwashed

Last week we solicited your questions for Martin Lindstrom, a marketing consultant and author of the new book Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.

Now, Lindstrom, returns with his answers to a few of them. As always thanks for every one who participated.

 

Q One more question occurred to me: Marketing is intended to persuade us to buy products, but it also serves another latent function which is to educate us about new products, about differences between products, or about the products themselves. Given this educational benefit, among other benefits, do you think marketing is a net good or a net bad for society on the whole? - NZ

Bring Your Questions for Brandwashed Author Martin Lindstrom

Though the exact percentage is debatable, the fact is that the vast majority of U.S. GDP is made up of personal consumption. The American consumer doesn't just drive the U.S. economy, for decades he's been driving the global one as well. Though that dynamic is slowly changing as Americans cut back on just about everything we buy, for the better part of the last 60 years, the U.S. consumer has been king. And from this has sprung a massive marketing and advertising industry coldly focused on a singular goal: getting us to buy as much stuff as they possibly can.

In his new book Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, marketing guru Martin Lindstrom trains a bright light on his own industry to uncover all the unsavory things that marketers do to subtly, or not so subtly, influence our buying habits. Lindstrom's agreed to answer your questions, so fire away in the comments section. As always, we'll post his replies in due course.

What's the Best Way to Measure Poverty: Income or Consumption?

Yesterday we learned that 15.1% of Americans were living in poverty in 2010, the highest level since 1993, and up nearly 1 percentage point from 2009, when it was 14.3%. That data is based on an income measurement which shows that in 2010, 46.2 million Americans were living below the poverty line, defined as $22,314 a year for a family of four.

But income is just one way to measure poverty, and a particularly tricky (and narrow) way at that - so says Notre Dame economist and National Poverty Center research affiliate, James Sullivan, who believes that to measure poverty strictly by income fails to accurately reflect people's true economic circumstances. Income alone ignores the effects of things like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid, food stamps, and housing subsidies. From a Notre Dame press release on Sullivan's recent poverty research:

“Income received from food stamps, for example, grew by more than $14 billion in 2009. By excluding these benefits in measuring poverty, the Census figures fail to recognize that the food stamps program lifts many people out of actual poverty,” Sullivan says. “If these programs are cut back in the future, actual poverty will rise even more.”

Why You're More Likely to Die After Getting Paid

Last year, Notre Dame economist William Evans, along with Timothy Moore from the University of Maryland, documented that mortality rates spike by almost one percent on the first day of every month, remain high for the next few days, and then steadily decline over the course of the month. Now they think they've figured out one reason why: our paychecks are killing us.

In a study to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Public Economics, Evans and Moore examined the death records of four demographic groups in the U.S.: seniors on Social Security; military personnel; families receiving tax rebate checks in 2001; and recipients of Alaska’s Permanent Fund dividends. Their results show that mortality increased the week after checks arrived for each of these groups.

Does Privatizing Retail Alcohol Sales Increase or Decrease Consumption?

If you've ever bought alcohol in Pennsylvania, you know what a weird, controlled system it has. As 1 of 19 "alcoholic beverage control" states in the U.S., Pennsylvania has some of the more strict, if not bizarre, laws regulating the retail sales of booze. Wine and spirits are sold only by state-owned stores, which don't even have names; they're designated by call numbers instead. Prices are kept uniform in all locations. Many of the stores operate at a loss. If you're under 21, you're not even allowed inside, and until recently, you couldn't buy alcohol on a Sunday. Oh, and check out its "Kafka-esque" system of grocery store wine vending machines.

This may all be about to change. Pennsylvania is debating whether to privatize its liquor sales as a way to raise money and bridge its budget gap.