The one-sentence summary

Companies use lots of tricks to manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy.


  • Companies use lots of tricks to manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy.
  • These include knowing that babies can hear sounds in the womb, using fear to sell, understanding how addiction affects people, how sex sells, and how peer pressure and celebrity endorsement work.
  • There is lots of evidence to show how ‘needs’ are generated: half of six-to–nine year old girls in the USA regularly use lip gloss and lipstick.
  • Research shows that fear mixed with a high level of blame, regret, guilt or even a dare translates emotion into action.
  • Many people are so addicted to their electronic devices that they feel as though their very identity has been stripped from them if they lose them.
  • Oniomania is compulsive or pathological buying, and many people are shopping addicts. The thin line between obsession and addiction is crossed in stages: routine, then the dream stage in which we associate emotional signals with things we don’t need, then habit when we have let it become embedded.
  • Nostalgia makes us attached to things we’ve grown up with. Our window of openness shuts by the age of 23, by which time we are set in our ways.


  • Wabi-sabi is the Japanese term for finding beauty in nature, where we are drawn to small imperfections. Brands exploit this by generating inauthentic authenticity – pretending things are authentic when they have actually been contrived to appear that way.
  • Somatic markers are mental shortcuts or bookmarks that link physical cues to emotional states, and brands know how to exploit them.
  • In competitive altruism people do socially responsible things not to do good but to show off.
  • Data mining companies often know what a consumer is going to do next better than the individuals do themselves.
  • Most apps and search engines now provide data direct back to the brands that provide them. These help generate trigger lists that bombard us with offers just when we are about to renew our insurance, for example.


  • The title sounds dramatic, but when you get into the detail most of what brands do isn’t that heinous or surprising – the author is himself probably guilty of using fear to sell.


I have to declare an interest here. A search agency representing the author contacted me pre-publication asking if I would host a video about the book on Greatest Hits. I said maybe, if I could see the video and read the book before deciding. Neither were forthcoming so I declined the offer.