We all have seen the Absolut Vodka ad; of a glass filled with the drink and three ice cubes. It’s a simple print ad, that’s it. But wait, look more closely and you’ll see the words ‘Absolut Vodka’ on the ice cubes. It is very light, yet if you are attentive enough, you’ll see it. For advertisers, however, it doesn’t matter whether you notice it or not, because the ad is quietly doing its job of talking directly to your subconscious brain.
This is just one of the many neuroscience techniques used by marketers. Now consider the following experiment conducted by Martin Lindstrom:
A table was set up in the middle of a restaurant and 4 actors were hired to pretend to be friends sharing a meal. They all ordered the soup, since it was the only starter on the menu, thus allowing an element of control. After breaking his bread and taking his first mouthful, one of the actors called for the waiter and delivered a 3 minute rant about how the soup was steaming hot. As the soup continued to be served to the other tables, more complaints began rolling in. By the end of the dinner, 26% of the guests had made similar complaints. Each bowl had come from the same pot, so either they had extremely sensitive tongues or they had all been influenced by the initial complaint. (Monkey See, Monkey Buy).
This is precisely how advertising works. Or should I say, the human mind works. We think our decisions and choices are based on what we like or dislike but we overlook the fact that most often, these very choices and decisions are smartly being influenced by some marketer sitting in an air-conditioned office, smiling to himself at having manipulated your decision. Trying to tap into the consumer subconscious in order to push more sales isn’t a new concept. More than half a century ago, Vance Packard, an advertising critic, wrote a seminal book called ‘The Hidden Persuaders’, which described how advertisers played on people’s subconscious desires trying to influence them to buy a product. Neuromarketing is just the modern incarnation of a concept that has been in existence since advertising took its first breath. And not surprisingly enough, it is only now that consumers are slowly realising these well-hidden stimuli that go into shaping their choices and decisions.
I believe in one thing – with growing competition among brands to grab the attention of the consumer, the traditional forms of research will not be sufficient. No single questionnaire, focus group or interview panel will provide all the answers. A single ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘not sure’ will not determine what is going on in the minds of the consumers in real time and what feelings they are developing about a brand. Marketers and advertisers need to go deeper to fetch strong consumer insights. However, using neuroscience to read consumers’ mind is a practice I am not really very fond of.
Neuromarketing is the new controversial field of marketing which uses functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging or (fMRI), a technique of Neuroscience, not to heal, but to sell products. Martin Lindstrom, the author of Buyology which explains neuromarketing, explained that nearly 90% of consumer purchasing decisions take place at the unconscious level. Neuro-Marketing aims to understand what directs the buying behaviour of consumers by examining their brain responses. One key concept driving neuromarketing is a function in the brain known as “mirror neurons”. These mirror neurons have shed a new light on consumer behaviour – from why a smile from a salesperson can compel us to spend more money to why someone else’s shopping behaviour influences ours. Thus, marketers use this concept and scan brains thus revealing subconscious motives to manipulate them.
Very recently, scientists working at the University of California, Berkeley, successfully decoded brain activities into audible sounds. In other words, our inner thoughts can be translated into sounds clearly articulated by a computer. Undeniably, this process calls for a lot of complexity. Firstly, around 256 electrodes need to be surgically attached to the scalps of at least 15 volunteers. Furthermore, is this ethical enough? Now let’s take into consideration the research conducted at the Max Planck institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. The study reveals that our decisions are made upto 10 seconds before we become aware of them. Now combining the Berkeley and the Max Planck study, it looks like the buy-button has finally arrived. Take a look at what changes Campbell Soup made using neuroscience:
Martin Lindstrom, author of the bestseller Buyology, conducted a study of consumer minds for his book. His team used both fMRI and EEG technologies to study what was really going on in the brains of the consumers as they watched commercials, thought about brands, encountered different logos and much more. You will be surprised when I point out some of the findings Buyology researchers uncovered –
- Cigarette Health Warnings Stimulate Smoking – Researchers found that the health warnings printed on tobacco packages stimulated the nucleus accumbens of the subjects, which is an area of the brain associated with cravings. This concludes that the health warnings, as common to popular belief not only did not help, but they were responsible for triggering a stronger craving. The very warnings intended to reduce smoking might well be an effective marketing tool for tobacco marketers.
- Product Placements Almost Never Work – Advertisers now smartly place their products in the content of television shows and movies. With this new approach, even if the viewers avoid watching any commercials, they can still see the starts of the show typing on an Apple Computer, drinking a Coke and so on. But Lindstrom’s research showed that almost all product placements are ineffective. Using EEG testing, they found that typical product placements caused no increase in brand recall. The only product placements that DID produce such effects were those which were heavily integrated into the content. For example, people tended to remember the Aston Martin car in Casino Royale as opposed to FedEx and Louis Vuitton whose placements were not central to the plot.
- Strong Brands are like Religion – This is one of the points that marketers and brand-builders should keep in mind. When the research team compared consumers’ brain activity while viewing images involving brands, religion and sports figures, the activity evoked by strong brands was much like that created by religious images.
With so many advancements being made so rapidly to woo the consumers, the day is not far when marketers will be able to tell every thought and notion of the consumer’s mind. Marketers will make an increasing use of the two major stimuli, Fear and Sex, in further ads. The use of sex will be subtler whereas more and more focus will be on fear-driven somatic markers. Lindstrom explains that the more stress and fear we face, the more we seek out solid foundations,
“The more we seek out solid foundations, the more we become dependent on dopamine. And the more dopamine surges through our brains, the more we want stuff.”
As neuromarketing becomes more popular and in demand, it will be easily accessible to companies and brands that will ever more make use of this method to tap into the consumer mindset. The whole world of advertising and marketing will change as the power and potential of the human brain grows. Needless to say, only time will tell us whether the consumer brain will be exploited or explored. Stay tuned in to read more on the relationship between the consumer and the brain.
Feature Image Credit: http://bit.ly/PhhQbm
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