How Neuromarketing is Changing the Way We Look at Consumer Behaviour

Malcolm Sheil

​Humans have promoted products and services since the creation of modern society. In Ancient Rome, merchants would pay famous gladiators to wear certain products. Meanwhile, Eastern societies like India and China used the spoken word to promote their offerings across large regions. There is no doubt that advertising has played a part in society for a very long time, even if the actual concept of marketing was only developed in the mid-1900’s. Marketing has since evolved with tremendous speed to keep up with changing consumer demands and trends. Today, it is defined by digital -based storytelling and consumer engagement. The field of neuromarketing has developed as part of an industry-wide effort to better capture the essence of the consumer.

Neuromarketing is the combined effort of neuroscientists and marketers to fully understand how physiological occurrences correlate with decision making and consumer behavior. A pioneer in this field, author Martin Lindstrom, catapulted neuromarketing into the public eye with the release of his 2008 best-seller Buyology: Truths and Lies About Why We Buy. In his book, Lindstrom concluded that many aspects of purchasing behavior are triggered not by the conscious mind, but rather by involuntary and uncontrollable associations that happen in the subconscious mind. Based on his findings, traditional marketing strategies like consumer surveys will always be incomplete because they do not take into consideration these involuntary decisions that are imperceptible to the conscious mind.

In 2009, eye tracking specialist James Breeze conducted one of the most notorious neuromarketing studies ever. The study posed a simple task to subjects: look at two identical diaper ads, the only difference being the position of the baby in each ad. The first one had the baby looking directly at the reader, whilst the second one had the baby looking upwards at the headline of the ad.

With the help of eye-tracking technology and heat maps, the study found that the baby’s face in the first ad distracted consumers from the written text. In contrast, the baby in the second ad directed consumers to look at the headline and actually engage with the written work.


Though the takeaway of Breeze’s study might seem trivial, it provided marketers with fundamental proof that having a person in an ad can create more distraction than value.

Neuromarketing is a tool that is becoming more and more common on company level rather than just academic. Product and packaging design have been revolutionized with the popularization of neuromarketing. While preparing to launch a new packaging for Chips Ahoy cookies, parent company Nabisco made use of EEG (electroencephalography) technology to track brain activity of subjects while interacting with the product. The results showed that on a subconscious level, subjects were annoyed by the feature and found it hard to use. This allowed for the redesign of the entire packaging to include a more consumer-friendly resealing feature before the launch.

Proposed design vs. Launched design

From a marketer’s perspective, neuromarketing is the holy grail of advertising tools. It enables them to create a product that consumers want even if they don’t even know they want it yet. Neuromarketing can tell companies the colours, stories, titles and even ad duration that will truly engage the consumer. Methods like the EEG, face coding and eye tracking can determine the most effective choices for consumer engagement through a series of trials. As of now, the field of neuromarketing is limited by technological boundaries to laboratories and therefore does not pose a significant ethical threat to consumers. However, as technology progresses so should the debate of neuroethics. The development of newer neuromarketing techniques could imply a tug-of-war between consumer autonomy and business efficiency. Considering this, consumers must ask themselves how much information they are willing to give away and at what cost.

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