Neuroscience in Marketing – Delving Into the Consumer’s Brain

Neuromarketers don’t just want to get into your heads, they want to get into your your brain, even if they have to rewire it in the process! When we think about brands, something happens in our brains — there’s electrical activity; a measurable response. The technology used to monitor this response is becoming increasingly refined, and as it does so, neuromarketing’s grasp on our most fundamental responses to advertising and products is tightening.

It is widely accepted within the marketing world that the vast majority of advertising content is processed subconsciously, hence people themselves are not going to be the best judges of the influence which marketing is having upon them. The techniques of neuromarketing seek to peer into the recesses of the human brain itself, in order to expose the truth about what viewing adverts does to people.

Neuroscience offers brands and products the opportunity to analyze — with increasing precision — the brain’s direct responses to stimuli. Of course, such technology can be put towards convincing us to buy products or to like ads, as well as merely measuring our responses to existing material. Indeed, this is already being done as the results from the first generation of neuromarketing are applied to the next wave of branding and advertising.

The first academic reference to neuromarketing was published a decade ago. Professor Read Montague suggested increased performance of one product over another if its brand was more recognized by the consumer. This was based on a study in which an fMRI machine was used to monitor the frontal lobe of the brain, the area known to be responsible for our thinking, planning and decision-making.

The participants of the study preferred Coca-Cola if they knew they were drinking it, in comparison with Pepsi, which they reported as tastier if they did not know which one was which. Coca-Cola has recently caused headlines in the business world by announcing that all of its next generation of quantitative advert performance tests will be conducted using neuromarketing technology, specifically facial coding.

Today, the techniques for gathering data from our brains have been mostly developed in order to analyze consumers’ decision-making behavior. These include the brain imaging techniques:

  • Electroencephalography (EEG), which measures the subconscious brain response to stimuli directly
  • Eye tracking, to analyze visual focus
  • Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), which measures the brain’s response to stimuli in the skin for the identification of emotional or physiological arousal.

Facial coding is the latest trend in the world of neuromarketing, and involves using software designed using expert guidance to pinpoint fleeting moments of ‘true’ emotion which pass over consumers’ faces during engagement with a product or ad.

One risk of neuromarketing is that it may be used specifically to target desirable subconscious responses in the consumer, independently of their actual conscious recognition of this influence. To an extent, this already occurs with traditional advertising, but the degree to which neuromarketing might enhance and add sophistication to the advertiser’s ability to bypass the conscious mind in evoking a response raises many controversial questions about freedom of thought, as well as invasion of privacy. While some present it as a harmless opportunity for increasing the popularity of a brand, others see it as a dangerous encroachment on the free will of individuals in society.

It seems a somewhat bitter irony that in a culture already suffocating in the ubiquitous presence of advertising in almost every aspect of life, be it billboards, TV, radio, the sides of vehicles, in our media and the like, that marketers are now looking for ways to get advertising right inside our heads, in order to advance the most invasive product placements of all time.


Eser, Z., Isin, F., & Tolon, M. (2011). Perceptions of marketing academics, neurologists, and marketing professionals about neuromarketing Journal of Marketing Management, 27 (7-8), 854-868 DOI: 10.1080/02672571003719070

Morin, C. (2011). Neuromarketing: The New Science of Consumer Behavior Society, 48 (2), 131-135 DOI: 10.1007/s12115-010-9408-1

Murphy, E., Illes, J., & Reiner, P. (2008). Neuroethics of neuromarketing Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 7 (4-5), 293-302 DOI: 10.1002/cb.252

Image via minemiro / Shutterstock.

Lorena Nessi, PhD, MA

Lorena Nessi PhD is an award winning journalist, researcher, and cultural sociologist. Her Bachelor's was in International Relations, Master’s degree in Globalization, Identity and Technology, and PhD in Communication, Sociology and Digital Cultures. She received the Avina scholarship for investigative journalism while working for the BBC. Her fields of interest include digital cultures, sociology, social media, technology and capitalism.
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