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Neuromarketing: Smart Marketing Or Jedi Mind Control Trick?

In the international bestseller "Blink," Malcolm Gladwell explains why our decisions to choose brands, select a mate, sue our doctor or make choices that decide Presidential elections, aren't as simple as they seem.

Why we often let unconscious biases affect our opinions about people who are taller or have a different skin colour. And why we find it even harder to explain them when asked.

I consider "Blink" essential reading for all marketers. I mean, which blue-blooded marketer wouldn't love to know how the workings of their customer's brain will decide whether their new packaging is going to work or fail?

Or why their new website is converting far fewer visitors than the old one? Of course we would.

But is it really possible to understand why people choose Budweiser over Coors? George W. over John Kerry? Coke over Pepsi?

No one really knows for sure. And asking people why they took those decisions doesn't necessarily give the right answers.

Why? Because most of us really haven't a clue as to why we make those choices.

95% of consumer decision-making occurs subconsciously, according to research from Harvard University, cited in an article in Time. That's a hell of a lot of decisions we have little or no conscious control over.,9171,1101040308-596161,00.html&e=9707

In Blink, Gladwell also shows how sometimes the sort of data that marketers rely on - such as market research and focus groups - can fail miserably because they don't always predict actual consumer behaviour, as Coca-Cola discovered during the New Coke fiasco.

But new research is beginning to shine a light on the mysterious workings of the neural processes behind those snap decisions.

Known as "neuromarketing," this controversial science could one day lead to new advertising strategies that directly stimulate hard-wired mental reflexes rather than appealing to fuzzy consumer attitudes, according to an article in Wired News.,1286,67597,00.html

The Time article also cited research that seems to have solved that eternal mystery ? why people prefer Coke over Pepsi. The answer lies in how people identify with brands. Although consumers preferred Pepsi's taste they choose Coke because they identified with its brand better.

A branch of cognitive neuroscience, neuromarketing relies heavily on the ability to visualise how the brain sees choices and takes decisions, using brain scans and a process called functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI. fMRI measures the level of oxygen in the blood and tells scientists which parts of the brain are most active.,1286,65775,00.html

According to the Wired article, this research even recently revealed the differences in the brains of Democrats and Republicans.

Consumer groups worry that the research could lead to companies using more effective "mind control" to brainwash consumers into decisions that the companies desire, and have issued calls to ban the technology.

Imagin e if the tobacco, alcohol, and gambling industries (or even worse, politicians) should start exploiting such information to manipulate the weak minds of their zombified consumers.

But the experts insist we are light years away from such an Orwellian scenario, and believe that the research will help businesses better understand the needs of their consumer and show them how to make life better for their consumers.

Whatever the outcome, neuromarketing is certainly going to be a bone of contention between marketers hoping to get a better grip on their consumer's decision making processes, and consumer activists seeking to help consumers retain control over their minds.


Priya Shah is the CEO of eBrand360 and writes the Marketing Slave blog. This article may be reprinted as long as the resource box is left intact and all links are hyperlinked.


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