Have you ever succumbed to the allure of the glistening, beckoning wrappers strategically placed along the checkout counter’s candy aisle? Have you observed the subtle persuasion compelling you to take an extra lap around the shelves before ascending the grand department store escalator? Perhaps you’ve noticed the contemplative gaze of cereal box mascots, locking eyes with their youthful target audience?
Such experiences are manifestations of the impact of neuromarketing on your cognitive processes. The compelling sensation urging you to add an item to your shopping cart is not a mere coincidence; it is a meticulously crafted influence supported by corporate investments in the billions. Studies indicate that these impulses play a role in initiating 90 to 95 percent of our purchasing decisions.
Whether consciously aware of it or not, you have been subjected to the enchanting tactics of brain-stimulated merchandising.
What is Neuromarketing?
Neuromarketing, in essence, constitutes a sophisticated commercial marketing strategy meticulously designed around the physiological and neural responses of consumers to product stimuli. Its overarching objective is to unravel the intricacies of customers’ motivations, preferences, and decision-making processes, thereby influencing creative advertising, product development, pricing strategies, and other incentive-related domains.
This interdisciplinary study seamlessly integrates elements from marketing, psychology, and neuroscience. The term “neuromarketing” was initially coined by Ale Smidts in his seminal paper titled “Looking into Neuromarketing: About the Possibilities of Neuromarketing” in 2002, presented during his inaugural address as a professor of marketing at the Rotterdam School of Management.
While formalization of the term occurred in the early 2000s, experiments within the realm of neuromarketing have roots dating back to the 1990s. Notably, the Zaltman metaphor elicitation technique, developed by marketing professor Gerald Zaltman and neuroscientist Gemma Calvert, delves into both conscious and unconscious thoughts by exploring individuals’ non-literal or metaphoric expressions, often concealed even from themselves. As exemplified by an experiment involving the documentation of village life in Nepal through disposable cameras, the study revealed subtle cultural nuances such as the consistent avoidance of capturing images below the ankle. This avoidance was attributed to the Nepalese perception that bare feet symbolized poverty, a revelation potentially overlooked in traditional discussion-based approaches.
Theoretically, the strategic examination of human emotions and behavioral patterns associated with products, advertisements, and decision-making provides companies with a distinct advantage, offering insight into customers’ desires, sometimes latent or unrecognized.
Examples of Neuromarketing
Numerous tools and methodologies are employed to scrutinize the inherent cerebral processes giving rise to consumer behavior. Subsequently, enterprises leverage this insight, expediting its integration onto the retail landscape through the following applications.
Eye Tracking & Gaze Analysis
The realm of ocular monitoring technology has captivated our interest, commanding our utmost attention. This sophisticated software is meticulously crafted to meticulously record the intricate movements of the human pupil and discern precisely where the gaze of the eyes fixates upon a screen. The ensuing results manifest in a vivid, variegated heat map, elucidating the focal points where participants predominantly engaged their visual faculties.
In the realm of comparative studies, a juxtaposition of two images is a common technique employed to ascertain which elicits a more favorable response from the audience. This method serves as a demonstrative means to underscore the advantages conferred by eye-tracking technology.
A scholarly exploration into viewer responses to baby advertisements was undertaken by usability specialist James Breeze, who surveyed a cohort of 106 subjects. The inquiry featured two distinct advertisements, both showcasing the same cherubic infant. In one iteration, the baby’s gaze was directed enticingly towards the observer, creating a direct engagement. In the alternate rendition, the baby’s gaze was directed towards the content of the advertisement.
Breeze’s findings unveiled a noteworthy trend: a significantly heightened level of attention was directed towards the message conveyed in the second advertisement example. This discernment underscores the notion that consumers instinctively follow the gaze of the subject, affirming the adage that individuals tend to look where the subject gazes.
These seemingly straightforward insights into human behavior have coalesced into a compendium of sophisticated eye-gaze strategies embraced by advertisers. As posited by Psychology Today, an averted gaze tactically appeals to the audience’s emotional sensibilities, drawing them into the narrative of the campaign. Conversely, a direct gaze speaks to the rational facet of the audience, instilling a sense of credibility in the conveyed message.
Color Psychology in Consumer Behavior
Recent research underscores that an overwhelming 90 percent of a consumer’s decision to purchase a product is intricately tied to the chosen color. In a scholarly piece featured in Management Decision, Satyendra Singh astutely posits that judicious application of colors not only serves to distinguish products in a crowded market but also exerts a profound influence on the emotional states of consumers. This influence, whether positive or negative, subsequently shapes their attitudes towards specific products.
Exemplifying this strategic use of color, corporate behemoths such as Coca-Cola, Target, and Netflix deftly employ the color red as a cornerstone of their brand identity — a staggering 94 percent of the global population identifies this vibrant hue with Coca-Cola. For these companies, red symbolizes power, excitement, energy, and passion, creating a visceral connection with their audience. Additionally, the color red has been empirically linked to stimulating hunger.
Nevertheless, scholarly scrutiny reveals that the efficacy of color in marketing communication can be disrupted by individual preferences, personal experiences, upbringing, cultural disparities, and contextual nuances. Thus, despite the potency of color psychology, the subtleties of personal interpretation remain pivotal in decoding the messages conveyed by marketing entities.
Effective Packaging Efficacy
The significance of packaging extends beyond its mere contents. Esteemed brands like Campbell’s Soup, Gerber, and Frito-Lay have judiciously undertaken the task of refining their packaging designs in recent times. Employing focus groups, they solicited feedback from customers, who were tasked with evaluating each element of a product’s packaging—ranging from color and text size to imagery—eliciting responses categorized as positive, neutral, or negative.
An illustrative example is Frito-Lay, which discerned that matte bags adorned with depictions of potatoes elicited a more favorable response, as opposed to glossy bags featuring images of chips. Promptly responding to this insight, adjustments were swiftly implemented within a matter of months.
In the pursuit of enhancing outreach, the National Cancer Institute employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) in a comparative analysis. This study juxtaposed the self-reported predictions of a select demographic with their concealed neural reactions and real-world outcomes, thereby providing profound insights into its target audience.
FMRI, a tool that gauges brain activity by discerning changes associated with blood flow, effectively correlates neuronal activation with cerebral blood flow.
Before launching a nationwide telephone hotline campaign, the NCI subjected a sample of 31 identified “heavy smokers with a strong intention to quit” to FMRI scans. During this process, participants were asked to rank three advertising campaigns, each featuring different sets of commercials, based on their preferences. The self-reported results were found to be at odds with the neural activity that most stimulated the participants, as revealed by their cerebral responses.
Subsequently, the study extended its scope to the general population through the airing of the commercial campaigns. The success of each campaign was evaluated by comparing the call volume to the 1-800-QUIT-NOW hotline in the month preceding and the month following the launch of each campaign.
Remarkably, the FMRI results from the initial sample size demonstrated a more accurate alignment with real-world responses, as opposed to the self-reported predicted preferences.
This study not only delves into the limitations imposed by boundary conditions and participant selectivity but also suggests that preferences of entire populations may be extrapolated from the neural activations of a small, focused neural group.
Should the act of maneuvering a colossal cart through the convoluted maze of aisles bathed in fluorescent illumination prove to be an overwhelming ordeal for you, rest assured that you share this sentiment with many others.
In a 1995 study centered on gourmet jams, orchestrated by the erudite minds at Columbia University, it was discerned that an excess of choices could serve as a deterrent for discerning customers. Professor Sheena Iyengar and her team of research assistants orchestrated an experiment featuring samples of Wilkin & Sons jams, wherein the assortment oscillated between 24 jams and a mere six jams at intermittent intervals.
While a substantial 60 percent of passersby in the marketplace were drawn towards the extensive array, only 40 percent chose to inspect the more modest selection. Intriguingly, 30 percent of the discerning few in the compact assortment category successfully concluded a transaction, in stark contrast to the paltry 3 percent of their counterparts faced with the daunting array of two dozen jams.
This study, as elucidated by Professor Iyengar, “proposed the notion that the presence of choice might be theoretically appealing, but in practicality, individuals might find an abundance of options to be truly enervating.”
Within this domain, a frequently employed instrument is electroencephalography, commonly known as EEG imaging, a method discerning an individual’s emotional response to a product or advertisement.
An investigation delved into customer dissatisfaction linked to societal beauty standards, extending pro-bono cosmetic dermatological interventions like lip fillers to participants. Utilizing EEG, the Catholic University of Campinas discerned a correlation between customer satisfaction and the activation of neural circuits involved in the evaluation of facial beauty.
The study revealed that 54 percent of the patients pursued the treatment due to pre-existing considerations, while 52 percent expressed dissatisfaction with their lips or nasolabial folding. Patient responses spanned from profound satisfaction to contentment with the outcomes of the treatment and their enhanced facial allure, with no participant registering dissatisfaction.
Given the participants’ keen interest in undergoing the treatment again and their propensity to advocate it within their social circles, the study interprets participant satisfaction as synonymous with trust.
In the realm of consumer psychology, loss aversion manifests as a phenomenon akin to the ubiquitous FOMO, yet applied to the context of products and advertising. Individuals harbor concerns not only for potential gains but equally for the prospect of missing out on opportunities, as exemplified in strategies employing phrases such as “buy before it’s gone” or “limited time only.”
While it is imperative to exercise caution in the utilization of this technique to prevent overexposure, loss aversion consistently outperforms alternative cognitive biases when subjected to empirical testing. Notably, research conducted by the ISM University of Management and Economics underscores the efficacy of loss aversion tactics, revealing a significant surge in conversion rates and the attainment of the highest mean scores for optimizing page views on an e-commerce platform.
Messaging strategies, such as employing statements like “The meal is already reserved! Do not miss a chance to order it!” demonstrated a more pronounced impact on user traffic compared to alternative approaches, including the countdown effect (“Order your meal in [x time] and we will deliver it to you by [y time]!”), the bandwagon effect (“This meal was already delivered to 100+ clients! Be one of them — order now!”), and the gain effect (“The faster you order — the faster you get!”).
Establishing a definitive comprehension of cost is imperative, as the perception of value for a customer is susceptible to distortion. The artful manipulation of this phenomenon is exemplified through anchoring, wherein companies strategically position their brand in a competitive landscape. This strategy relies on the assumption that a significant proportion of customers form decisions based on the immediate options before them, rather than conducting in-depth research to identify the most optimal product.
Conventional techniques employed for anchoring involve the creation of bundle packages and the inclusion of add-ons, such as offering complimentary coffee with the acquisition of a hotel room or presenting a selection of modestly priced wines amidst a backdrop of more expensive alternatives.
In the contemporary era, the stratagem of engagement has ensnared individuals, particularly those belonging to the millennial generation and beyond, through the medium of social media. Countless hours are dedicated to perusing concise, easily digestible content on screens, resulting in the release of dopamine—a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure.
Within the realm of video game design, practitioners have increasingly incorporated psychological principles centered around the dispensation of rewards and penalties. This has led to the integration of psychologists into development teams, ensuring that the content elicits sustained engagement.
By introducing rewards of greater significance, a surge in dopamine levels ensues. This engenders a profound connection between the player and the game, fostering a continuous cycle of pleasure-seeking and an insatiable desire for more—a phenomenon encapsulated within a hedonic loop.
In the realm of neuromarketing, the clandestine pleasure derived from the tactile evidence of vibrant, fluorescent-orange Cheeto residue upon one’s fingertips has been unequivocally substantiated.
In the year 2008, Frito-Lay conducted a meticulous analysis, cross-referencing a television commercial assessed by conventional focus groups with EEG mapping. The advertisement depicted a woman exacting revenge on an adversary within the confines of a laundromat by surreptitiously introducing the orange-hued snack into a dryer filled with pristine white garments. Despite participants hesitating to openly acknowledge their inclination towards schadenfreude, expressing a purported disapproval of the prank to avoid appearing malevolent, neuroscientific tests revealed a discernible pattern of cerebral activity in favor of the advertisement.
Such compelling findings led Ann Mukherjee, then Chief Marketing Officer at Frito-Lay, to assert that neuroimaging examinations could, in fact, yield more precise insights than conventional focus group methodologies.
Rapidity and Efficacy
Certainly, while safety and security undeniably stand as commendable grounds to endorse a product, one cannot overlook the pivotal aspects of expeditious delivery and seamless functionality.
PayPal, at the forefront of digitalizing monetary transactions, discerned a noteworthy inclination among its platform users. They exhibited a more favorable response to campaigns accentuating swift performance, surpassing even the emphasis on secure transactions in terms of fostering customer satisfaction. By underscoring the rapidity of their online payment service, PayPal successfully persuaded a greater number of online shoppers to incorporate their platform into their financial repertoire.
In the pursuit of delivering a meticulously crafted product, a cohort of 30 discerning individuals, adorned with electrode-studded caps, undertook the task of scrutinizing specific design facets – such as the bumper, the windshield, and the tires – on a sleek 2011 Hyundai test model, resplendent in silver. Devoting an entire hour to this focused observation, participants contributed valuable feedback, elucidating the aspects of the vehicle most aesthetically appealing to consumers.
Subsequently, Hyundai harnessed the data gleaned from electroencephalography (EEG) to gain profound insights into preferences and the cognitive stimuli that prompt purchase decisions. Furthermore, the exterior design of the vehicle underwent refinements guided by the recorded brain activity.
The Right Price
An avant-garde pricing concept, originating from a study conducted in Singapore, introduces the notion of roundedness as a pivotal factor in market pricing. Whole numbers, such as $5 or $500, intuitively resonate with customers, tapping into their low-energy, emotional intellect.
Conversely, when the logical faculties of the brain are invoked, a preference for the intricacy of precision pricing emerges. This proclivity arises from the idea that complex numerical figures compel the brain to exert additional cognitive effort, persuading it that opting for a product with a nuanced pricing structure is a more rational decision.
Renowned neuromarketing expert Roger Dooley posits that the choice between appealing to a customer’s emotions or cognitive processes ultimately hinges on a company’s strategic orientation.
In the realm of neuromarketing, a domain now extending its influence to online platforms alongside traditional retail spaces and grocery aisles, certain imperatives dictate the success of virtual enterprises. Certifications, testimonials, and social widgets are deemed indispensable elements for online companies aspiring to attract traffic.
Additionally, the consensus among user experience (UX) experts underscores the diminished effectiveness of horizontal website layouts compared to their conventional vertical counterparts. The top-down format engages the user’s cognitive faculties, incentivizing them to navigate further, particularly when perusing content on their smartphones.
In the vast expanse of the internet, headlines serve as the audacious provocateurs, strategically crafted to elicit clicks. A study conducted by researchers at University College London establishes the merit of cleverness in headline construction. The findings overwhelmingly favor blog posts adorned with catchy puns, a technique the study dubs as “hippocampal headlines.” Examples of such headlines ingeniously intertwine lines from famous idioms with subjects relevant to the content, as seen in the clever utilization of phrases like “Practice makes Patrón” for a favored liquor brand or “Home, Smart Home” for technological devices related to household affairs. This play on familiar phrases induces a “surprise” effect, activating the hippocampus and commanding the attention of our cognitive faculties.
Advantages of Neuromarketing
Advocates of neuromarketing perceive this groundbreaking field as a valuable instrument, aptly employed to bridge the lacunae inherent in conventional marketing methodologies, thereby accruing advantages for both producers and consumers.
While the business endorsement is conspicuous, the common individual stands to find respite from the deleterious effects of the swift pace of modern life, notably decision fatigue. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2021, encompassing 3,035 participants, revealed that nearly one-third of adults, predominantly comprising 48 percent millennials, grapple with the execution of fundamental decisions, such as choosing what to eat or wear. Bearing this in mind, the average person makes approximately 200 decisions daily, solely pertaining to dietary choices.
The application of neuromarketing involves the correlation of physiological responses to content, thereby enhancing the reliability of outcomes. This augmentation translates into an elevated return on investment, both in terms of monetary expenditure and time allocation, whether within the confines of a focus group setting or amidst the bustling environs of a local shopping precinct.
Neuromarketing is not devoid of controversy
Despite the existence of valid studies, neuromarketing is widely perceived as a pseudoscience, primarily due to the prevalence of companies that camouflage themselves in sensationalism rather than genuine neuroscience.
Journalist Steven Poole eloquently characterizes the surge in brain hacking, often disseminated to consumers through self-help books, as a manifestation of the “neurobollocks” phenomenon, denoting an intellectual pestilence. He vehemently argues against distorted and selectively interpreted readings of brain mapping masquerading as science merely to boost sales.
Joseph Turow, a communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, dismisses neuromarketing as the latest iteration of gimmicky advertising endeavors, employing a hypodermic technique to ostensibly enlighten consumers about their desires and needs.
Beyond issues of legitimacy, ethical concerns surround neuromarketing techniques, many of which are labeled as potentially invasive technologies manipulating masses without proper consent.
Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, conveyed to the New York Times that neuromarketing is exerting an influence on individuals without their informed awareness. Advocating for digital privacy safeguards, he contends that regulations should now be implemented, especially if advertising deliberately sidesteps rational defenses, prompting a reevaluation of traditional legal defenses protecting advertising speech in the marketplace.
For better or worse, the prognosis for the neuromarketing market anticipates a 15.6 percent trajectory over the next few years, culminating in 2026, according to the market intelligence platform Report Linker.