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Inbound Marketing Blog

    Neuromarketing –You (Don’t) Know (Why) You Want It

    Posted by Pat Owings

    Is Neuromarketing Something to Fear?


    There’s a lot of buzz about the relatively new field of study known as “neuromarketing” which uses brain imaging and body response testing (biometrics) to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses and effectiveness of different marketing strategies and advertisements.

    Monster brands like Google, Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola, Disney and big-name television networks are deep into neuromarketing, trying to figure out just what happens when our brains make decisions; where in the brain these choices take place; and how the brain can be swayed to make one choice over another.

    If you’re like me, the fact that so many big brands are investing so much time and money into understanding what subconsciously makes us choose one product over another is both fascinating and frightening.

    “Do What You Want, What You Want With My Body”

    So, how does neuromarketing use our body and brain to make advertising and marketing more effective? And what is it about neuromarketing that makes us all feel a little bit violated?

    Manipulating Subconscious Motives By Appealing To The Reptilian Brain

    The oldest part of your brain, also the part that acts on the deepest subconscious and highest automatic levels, is known as the “Reptilian” brain. It’s this area of your brain that tells your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your body to function normally, despite the fact that the rest of your brain is seeped in vodka and can’t tell the difference between a toilet and a space ship. And this is the exact part of the brain that neuromarketers want control of.

    Why? If they can sway your decisions by appealing to and manipulating the Reptilian part of your brain, they can ultimately convince you of what you need and want, without you even knowing you were having the conversation.

    “One More Try”

    Feeling a bit betrayed? But isn’t all marketing and advertising trickery, deceit or manipulation on some level?

    Yes? But in the past, marketing and advertising experts had to learn what worked and what didn’t by trial and error. They surveyed, came up with a strategy, implemented it, and waited for a response (or silence) from their target audience. But with neuromarketing, that approach is no longer necessary.

    Neuromarketers spend hours and hours studying brain patterns and biometrics and tracking eye movement to determine exactly what elicits the desired response (a subconscious decision to want, need or like the product or advertisement) from the Reptilian brain. With this technology, it’s possible to completely bypass the target audience’s will and reason, and that’s where many people have a problem.

    “Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies”

    The Reptilian brain is associated with traits like obsessiveness, compulsiveness, worship, fear, submission, and ritual, all traits that brands want to evoke to some degree. Think about it: if a brand can see just what makes you obsess over something, they’re going to be able to make you obsess over something (in theory).

    And because your Reptilian brain doesn’t learn from mistakes and instead acts ritualistically or automatically, a brand can persuade this part of your brain to respond to a product or advertisement the same way, time after time.

    So Where Does It Really Get Controversial?

    Think back to the first magic trick you ever saw, or the first time you realized that people lie, or that your friends only hung out with you because you were the only kid on the block with a Super Nintendo (I know, I’m dating myself).

    All of those things may have left you feeling a bit betrayed. But the difference is, once you were made aware of those things, your brain could take that information and learn from it, using it to make better, more cautious decisions about what you believe and what relationships you maintain.

    With the Reptilian brain, there is no learning from the tricks. And depending on how neuromarketing is used, that can be pretty scary and can feel pretty dishonest. Take the words of Dr. A.K. Pradeep, Founder of NeuroFocus, Inc., a trailblazing neuromarketing firm:

    “If I persuaded you to choose Toothpaste A or Toothpaste B, you haven’t really lost much, but if I persuaded you to choose President A or President B, the consequences could be much more profound...The fact that we can use this technology to do this doesn’t mean we should.”

    But whether you buy into the science of neuromarketing or not, politicians are attempting to apply the research to build more effective campaigns. Is that ethical? Shhh..

    “I’m Free To Decide”

    Obviously, we want to believe that all of our decisions are the result of hashed out logic and reason. But, there are actually a lot of external influences that can lead us to value one choice over another, and advertisers, marketers, politicians, friends and even family have been using the power of persuasion since the beginning of time.

    “If Your Friends Jumped Off Of A Bridge, Would You Do It, Too?”

    We’ve all heard it. But, in saying that, your mom was appealing to the very same part of your brain that your friends were appealing to. The pressure to please and to belong has always been a part of human existence.

    We are all culturally influenced and preprogrammed to respond to things in a certain way, see things in a certain light, like or dislike certain things, etc. The real issue with neuromarketing is that no level of awareness or logic can be used to defy or question it.

    “Walk This Way, Talk This Way”

    So is neuromarketing unethical? Is it something to fear? Like any other piece of information or body of knowledge, it all depends on how it’s used. In the wise words of King Solomon, “there’s nothing new under the sun”. Neuromarketing is just taking the oldest part of the brain and using it new ways. Here’s to hoping it’s as harmless as choosing 3-ply over 2-ply.

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    photo credit: EUSKALANATO via photopin cc

    Topics: Inbound Marketing