The takedown of the neuromarketing book Buyology by Jonah Lerer (editor of Seed, author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and one of my favorite blogs, The Frontal Cortex) in the Washington Post is pretty fantastic. Basically he says the author, Martin Lindstrom writes well and knows a ton about advertising, but when it comes to brain science, he oversimplifies and generally applies theories incorrectly.
The best part of the review is his comments on Lindstrom’s use of the mirror neuron theory applied to advertising: “Take mirror neurons, a much-hyped circuit of cells in the pre-motor cortex. These cells have one very interesting property: They fire both when a person moves and when that person sees someone else move. In other words, they collapse the distinction between seeing and doing. That’s an exciting idea, but Lindstrom isn’t content to stick with the science. Instead, he uses mirror neurons to explain everything from the atmospherics of an Abercrombie & Fitch store (the “large blow-up posters of half-naked models” make your “mirror neurons fire-up”) to the smell of coffee in the morning, which causes these cells to “see a cup of Maxwell-House.” Lindstrom cheapens the mirror neuron hypothesis by turning it into a justification for almost every successful marketing campaign: Even the triumph of the iPod is merely mirror neurons at work.”
We’ve all been guilty of oversimplifying that which we don’t understand and applying it to something that doesn’t make sense (I definitely have … often), so it’s always fun to see one of us get put in our place.