UK: Neuromarketing Hijacks Brains

In May, The Guardian alerted the United Kingdom that food firms like Frito-Lay could face lawsuits because of their neurommarketing. The following photo accompanied the story:
Under the picture was this caption: “Brain scanning technology found that people derived a guilty pleasure from having their fingers coated with orange Cheetos dust.”
So, what can brain science do for your marketing?
Here’s some more from that article:
Neuromarketing is of growing interest to food companies. Fast food, soft drinks and snack companies increasingly interact with children through social media and online games. Some are beginning to probe further, gathering information through brain scans about how unconscious decisions are made to eat one snack rather than another and targeting people’s susceptibilities.
By measuring brain activity, marketers can create more compelling marketing by better understanding subconscious desires.  Traditional marketing focuses on what works and what doesn’t work; neuromarketing measures the why and how of marketing and purchasing decisions.
Here’s another nugget from that article:
Research has also shown that it is possible to train people’s brains to prefer one food over another.
The question this raises is whether neuromarketing is an ethical practice.
In the Journal of Business Ethics, this question was asked and answered.
Their conclusion?
 “We argue that the most frequently raised concerns—threats to consumer autonomy, privacy, and control—do not rise to meaningful ethical issues given the current capabilities and implementation of neuromarketing research.”
Yet, Kelly Brownell, one of the world’s leading obesity researchers is not convinced when it comes to neuromarketing for food products.
She’s a professor of psychology and neuroscience and dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.  She asks, “Does food marketing hijack the brain?”  Then she adds,
There is very interesting neuroscientific research looking at the impact of sugar on the brain. If one proved that the brains of children are being hijacked by marketing, it could open up possibilities for legal action. Companies could be held liable for being engaged in illegal activity if it causes harm.
State of Digital shares two ways that we experience neuromarketing on a regular basis:
Take for example the concept of ‘priming‘ – influencing your customers’ behaviour by exposing them to specific triggers designed to encourage a desirable course of action. One example is how many fast food restaurants are designed [PDF] to have uncomfortable seats, bright lighting and abundant noise, so that fast food customers are encouraged to consume their meals quickly and vacate their seats for the next customers.

Another well-known example is how supermarkets use the smell of freshly baked bread to encourage more bread sales, pricing strategies to make shoppers think they’re getting a bargain, and how flowers are positioned near the supermarket’s entrance to prime shoppers to think about freshness.

So, how can you ethically employ the insights of neuromarketing?

If you’re old enough, you may recall the stir about subliminal advertising.  It had to do with images shown of sodas and popcorn on a movie screen for a fraction of a second.  The story is that these images boosted sales.

Subliminal advertising, hypnosis, and neuro-linguistic programming are all pitched as having extraordinary power over our minds.  Neuromarketing seems in the same ballpark, but is it really?  Here are some ethical ways that neuromarketing techniques are used:


7 Neuromarketing Techniques That You Can Use

Here are some ethical ways that you can use neuromarketing.

  1. Priming.  This technique was mentioned above.  Words and images can sink deep into the unconscious and influence behavior.  Google this to find a wealth of information on this topic.
  2. Use of color.  Color psychology is a big topic in advertising and marketing.  The colors you use influence how you are perceived.  Colors evoke emotions and used wisely, they can help you build your branding and sell your products and services.
  3. Anchoring effect.  The first piece of information that a person receives is highly influential.  A high or a low number can be that first piece of information.  Let’s start high – a msrp (manufacturers suggested retail price) can be prominently shown with a lower price that a buyer can take advantage of.  Or, in a negotiation, one party can start very low to influence the range of bids lower.  The first number in these cases is the anchor.
  4. Consistency effect.  A lead magnet or sample can influence a buying decision by demonstrating the quality of product offered.
  5. Pricing.  You’re familiar with .99 pricing psychology, but what else can neuromarketing teach us about pricing strategy?  For whatever reason, odd numbers outperform even numbers, and 7 and 9 have been shown to be particulary strong.
  6. Sunk cost basis.  When an upsell is offered after a purchase, the purchase itself can serve as part of the incentive to take advantage of the upsell.  Money has already exchanged hands and a buyer is more likely to buy more than a non-buyer is to make an intial purchase.
  7. Reward and punishment.  It’s no secret that human beings enjoy pleasure.  What pleasure can you associate with your products and services?  Pleasure builds attachment, so use pleasure to build attachment to your brand.
You’ll find much more information online about neuromarketing.  If you’d like to take advantage of one particularly potent use of neuromaketing, click here to view Trigger Words.
I invite your comments and questions, and your likes and shares.

5 thoughts on “UK: Neuromarketing Hijacks Brains

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