The Consuming Instinct – Review


This is a fascinating book that follows in the footsteps of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (P.S.) and Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. While the books mentioned deal with economics and behavioral economics, respectively, The Consuming Instinct deals with Evolutionary Psychology. 

The first chapter, “Consumers: Born and Made”, lays out a roadmap for the rest of the book. As the author states on page 12, the focus is on the four key Darwinian drives mentioned in the subtitle of this book: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal about Human Nature. The author succeeds in providing many insightful anecdotes along those lines. For instance, he easily dismantles the belief that men and women are somehow made and not born. Feminists beware . . . you will not like the author’s conclusion that men and women really are different. The difference between the sexes is the focus of the majority of the book, and includes the following questions:

Do women dress more provocatively when they are most fertile?

Do the clothes (or car) make the man?

Why do hip hop artists “make it rain” in many music videos?

Does Axe deodorant really make men more attractive to the opposite sex?

What does a man look for in a woman? What does a woman look for in a man?

Do the toys your toddler plays with affect sexuality?

There are also insightful questions and answers about family, friends, food, and cultural products. It is a very interesting and informative read that is particularly well researched and documented. Though I don’t often agree with the author about why these things are the way they are, the how and what are fascinating. Unfortunately, there are two problems with the book that lessen its value.

One, there is not much information that will really be useful to marketers. It’s an interesting read, but there aren’t many actionable insights to take here. Most marketers are already aware that the color red and beautiful people (note the book’s cover) will have a positive advertising affect.

The second issue I have with the book is the atheistic dogma that is espoused, especially in Chapter 8. For a book that is focused on science, research, and marketing, the author veers off course when talking about religion as a cultural product and his own hatred of religion dominates the book. Two quotes from the book illustrate the problem.

“I concur with Dawkins when he proposed that targeting religious messages to children is tantamount to child abuse.” A sad statement that belittles the very real and prevalent abuse of children.

“The earthquake that struck in Haiti in 2010 was devastating, with well over one hundred thousand deaths and countless people injured and left homeless. One might think that such a calamity might shake the Haitians’ faith in an all-loving, benevolent, and protector God. It turns out that their faith in God increased subsequent to the disaster. I vividly remember the images of a woman who was rescued from the rubble after being buried alive for several days. As she was being freed, she broke out into a rapturous religious hymn, as Jesus had apparently intervened to save her. Too bad He was too busy to save the other hundreds of thousands of people who perished. Human narcissism is truly limitless.” The author easily and carelessly dismisses the beliefs of a woman, a religion, and even a country. The elitism and intellectual arrogance that characterizes the above paragraph is apparent in the entire chapter.

Despite the two issues I have with the book, the majority of the work is still a fascinating read. If you are not expecting a business book and can look past the dogma, you will definitely find something to like in The Consuming Instinct.