Neuromarketing: Orwell’s 1984 or Breakthrough Marketing?

Can marketers develop better products, advertising and messages by analyzing people’s cognitive, sensorimotor and affective responses to marketing stimuli? Proponents of Neuromarketing, an emerging field that mixes cognitive science and marketing, thinks so. In Neuromarketing, researchers use a variety of measurement tools such as MRIs and EEGs to  measure changes in a person’s brain activity and physiological state based on different external stimuli.  These changes may trigger different emotional states (e.g., anger, pleasure) or impressions thereby influencing consumer behavior and attitude. 

Typically, marketers are keen to understand how consumers respond to certain stimuli (e.g., a TV ad) and why they make the decisions they do (e.g., not purchase something).  Traditional measurement tools like verbal feedback is often not reliable as people commonly act differently than what they say or intend to do.  This intent-action gap occurs because powerful yet hidden behavioral drivers – such as cognitive and social bias as well as the presence of sub-conscious needs – overrule conscious and rational intent. A classic example of this gap was the Pepsi vs Coke taste challenge.  While most people taking the challenge consciously chose the taste of Pepsi, and those watching the ads believed that Pepsi did taste better Coke, actual consumer behavior (and market share) continued to favor Coke’s dominance. 

Supporters of Neuromarketing believe they can bridge this gap and improve marketing effectiveness by understanding sub-conscious behavioral triggers and then crafting images and messages that can stimulate the relevant parts of the brain and incite the right behaviors.   This makes Neuromarketing and its applied results potentially subliminal in purpose and result.

Some early applications of this science have included:  analyzing the responses of viewers to television commercials and other forms of advertising; exploring the effects of looking at happy or sad facial expressions;  studying the mental states of motorists driving against a deadline and; examining how people react to an unexpected ‘freebie’. Outside of marketing, political strategists and film producers are beginning to use the techniques to craft political imagery and slogans as well as choose the most compelling movie endings and trailers.

On the other hand, some are skeptical of Neuromarketing’s scientific value and potential to influence consumer behavior.  For example, the journal  Nature Neuroscience, said “…neuromarketing is little more than a new fad, exploited by scientists and marketing consultants to blind corporate clients with science.”  Moreover, others have voiced ethical concerns around using science to seed subliminal messages in people’s brains in order to leverage sub-conscious triggers to buy certain products or adopt certain political positions. 

Contrary to the hype, Neuromarketing research will never discover a so-called ‘buy button’ – some mythical region of the brain which need only be stimulated to compel consumers to purchase a product regardless of whether they actually want to do so.  More realistically, Neuromarketing can deliver commercial value by improving the identification and power of certain messages and visuals within advertisements, packaging or product design.  Furthermore, a better understanding of how the brain works is still of  value to cognitive scientists as well as marketers.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.


3 comments so far

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ben Sykes, NeuroMarketer. NeuroMarketer said: Neuromarketing: Orwell's 1984 or Breakthrough Marketing « Mitchell … […]

  2. Kyle McGuffin on

    Great topic Mitch. We as consumers need to know what tactics are being used to sway our influences. I just blogged on how we need to wake up as consumers to the propaganda of pharma and media/advertising companies and not be misled.

    • mitchellosak on

      Thanks for the comment, Kyle. Normally I am supportive of innovation in whatever guise. However, Neuromarketing does possess the creepy factor.

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