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By Rory Sutherland
384 pages, hardcover, $27.99
Published by William Morrow
harpercollins.com

Anchoring. Satisficing. Choice. Framing. Nudges. Risk aversion. Can the language of behavioral economics be applied to the arcane arts of advertising, marketing and branding? Rory Sutherland, author of Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life, and a vice chairman at Ogilvy, thinks so.

Sutherland’s premise, like those of Amos Tversky, Richard Thaler and Daniel Kahneman, all Nobel-winning behavioral economists, is that when it comes to decision-making, people do not behave rationally. Therefore, for marketers, brand builders and advertisers, Sutherland argues, it makes sense to think irrationally, or, in his words, “psycho-logically.”

In practice, that means tapping into unconscious motivations and understanding emotional states of mind to uncover the real “why?” behind people’s decision-making. If done right, according to Sutherland, the result is alchemy, which turns lead into gold, and seemingly nutty ideas into effective, even brilliant marketing campaigns.

To back up his claims, Sutherland combines just enough research with well-chosen advertising campaigns. When General Mills needed to increase sales of its failing “all-in-one” cake mix, for example, it demanded cooks add an egg. The extra effort increased sales. When a retail website replaced a “Register” button with a “Continue as Guest” button, it saw a 45 percent lift in sales, an increase of $15 million a month. Rename the Patagonian toothfish a Chilean sea bass, and the dish flies off the menu.

Will readers benefit from these anecdotes? As Sutherland’s eleventh rule of alchemy states, “If there were a logical answer, we would have found it.” —Sam McMillan

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