The Truth About Why We Buy

Urban Satchel Bag Louis Vuitton. Ordinary handbag: Target.

Which bag would you pick?

Can you spot the difference between these two bags?

In case you didn’t notice, the bag on the left is made of synthetic leather, while the one on the right is made entirely of trash straight out the back alley dumpster.

The bag on the left: $40. The scraps of litter on the right: $150,000.


That’s more than a Tesla Roadster!

You may be asking, “Why would someone pay that much for a pile of rubbish!?”

The simple answer: because it was designed by Louis Vuitton. Crazy.

Whether or not you’re into brands or bags in particular, chances are you indulge in luxuries of some sort whether that is cable television, fine dining, a smart phone, laptop, or a car (with the exception of a Geo Metro).

Although we all like to believe we’re logical in how we spend our money, oftentimes, we’re not.

The truth is, we don’t really know why we buy things. In fact, we rarely even know what we really want!

The book Buyology, by Martin Lindstrom, discusses the fascinating psychology behind what makes us buy and how a simple brand name can turn trash into treasure.

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

Human beings are often poor reporters of their own actions.

Most of our buying decisions are done subconsciously, meaning that we usually don’t know why we bought something. Instead, we just make up reasons that sound good.

New breakthroughs in neuromarketing allow scientists to see which parts of our brains are activated when we view advertisements or rate new products.

In one experiment, participants watched television pilots and rated the likelihood that they’d watch each show in the future. The shows in which they were most engaged…were also the ones they had rated the lowest!

So either they didn’t want to admit that they liked the low-rated shows or they didn’t even realize they liked them.

Our unawareness makes us easy prey for sly advertisers, making us constantly fall for tricks such as:

  • Stores playing music with specific lyrics to subconsciously make you buy more – “Don’t worry about the money….”
  • Restaurants using color schemes, furniture, and decorations to make you think of Marlboro without even mentioning a cigarette or logo.
  • Olfactory communication: spraying fragrance to link pleasant memories with products, evoke certain emotions, or even make employees seem more knowledgeable.

In fact, companies like Bahlsen have entire TEAMS of engineers who work tirelessly to make sure that when consumers bite into their product, the sound it makes is absolutely pristine and distinguishable.

So if you think you don’t fall for advertisements – think again. Since it’s easy to notice the most OBVIOUS sales tactics, we develop a false confidence and think, “only stupid people fall for those sales gimmicks!

But the best tactics and advertisements affect us without us even realizing it.

Times Square New York City

A higher density of ads actually makes individual products more forgettable. Photo Credit:

Do you prefer sex or controversy?

We’ve all heard the phrase “sex sells.”

But research shows that sexual images in advertisement actually distract from the message being sent. Consumers don’t focus on the product; instead they focus on the scantily clad woman lying seductively next to the product.

Sex only really sells itself.

But what really gets us interested is sex mixed with controversy. On the many occasions that Calvin Klein has been forced to cancel a supremely racy ad campaign, it actually drew more attention to the brand and increased sales.

Weird or controversial ads make us pay more attention and remember their products more readily, thereby subjecting us to availability bias.

For example, how many television commercials do you remember from the last month?

Of the few you can probably think of, which ones stand out the most?

Chances are, the ones that made a lasting impression were catchy, absurdly funny, or just plain scandalous.

Simply put, anything that’s ordinary tends to be ignored and forgotten.

Sand Sculpture. Photo Credit: www.

Mind-boggling sand sculpture. Photo Credit: www.

Would you pay $100,000 for a pile of dirt?

Because an 87-year-old lawyer in Manhattan did. He spent a hundred grand on dirt to fill his American grave. What’s so special about the dirt? Is it infused with gold? Was it dredged from the bottom of the Pacific?

Actually, it’s Irish.

That’s right. Some people will pay thousands of dollars for dirt from their home country because it seems special, lucky, or even sacred.

That’s also why someone will pay $10,568 for a license plate.

Humans have an affinity for superstition and rituals, both of which are scientifically linked to our need to control and understand our chaotic environment. After all, it feels comforting to believe in luck, destiny, or magical contagion. Such superstitions give us purpose, hope, and a means to rationalize our irrational behavior.

Whether it’s a $150 pair of Air Jordan’s or a $150,000 brand name bag made of trash, if it seems to have special significance, boosts our self-esteem, or helps us portray a certain image, then price simply becomes an afterthought.

So what does this all mean?

We’re constantly being bombarded with media and advertisements, and their messages have a much stronger impact on us than we even realize.

But is that really so bad?

In my opinion, it only becomes a problem when we overspend on useless items or get scammed. But with some financial education and heightened awareness, we can learn to avoid these traps.

Besides, advertisers are simply catering to the way that our brains have evolved to best absorb and retain information.

Now some of you may be thinking, “But ads just manipulate and brainwash people, and that’s wrong!!”

Well, if you truly want to eliminate your exposure to social influence, then I’d suggest you sell all your belongings and go live in the Kerguelen Islands, safe from company logos or commercial jingles.

For the rest of us, simply educating ourselves and having a greater awareness of the types of tricks we are most susceptible to can help us think more clearly about our buying decisions.

Clever advertisement by Volkswagen. Photo Credit:

Clever advertisement by Volkswagen. Photo Credit:

***To learn more about why we buy things, check out Buyology, by Martin Lindstrom.***

***Be sure to FOLLOW this blog for more posts on business, psychology, and personal development.***

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