During the last years, there has been one discipline that has gained notoriety among marketing: neuromarketing. It is a specialized kind of market research that consists in the application of neuroscience techniques in the area of marketing, by analyzing the effects that advertising and other communication tools have in the human brain. Biometrics, such as heart rate, respiratory rate or galvanic skin response are used, being the final goal to be able to anticipate consumers’ behavior. The network channel France 2 broadcasted a documentary about it.
An example of the multiple applications of neuromarketing is the experiment about Pepsi and Coke, conducted by Samuel McClure. In his experiment, without being aware of the brands, a little bit more of 50% of the subjects preferred Pepsi. On the other hand, when they knew the brand they were drinking, 75% of them chose Coke as more tasty than Pepsi. McClure saw that when people had information regarding the brand of the beverage the brain activity changed substantially, interfering a part of the subconscious (the pre-frontal cortex) in the taste perception, which made them like Coke better.
Another area where neuromarketing is being used is the olfactory marketing. As a matter of fact, smell goes straight to the emotional part of the brain, by-passing the rational tart, and therefore one cannot avoid it. For example, in 2006 McDonalds ordered some neromarketing research (that was conducted with magnetic resonance techniques) in order to find a fragance that the consumer matched with the brand. The fragrance searched had to be connected with nature, because the aim was to reposition the brand into more healthy. According to McDonalds, 3 different fragrances were tested in restaurants and finally they decided to include that fragrance in the cleaning products because this way it would not be intrusive to customers. However, in the end the project was dismissed, due to technical reasons.
If we broaden our perspective away from neuromarketing, one of the keys of marketing is learning up to a maximum extent the potential consumers (their wishes, hobbies, habits, etc.) through market research, like in-depth interviews or focus groups. Is it fair to do it through one’s subconscious? Is it manipulation, bearing in mind that we do not notice it? Or it does not matter because in the end it helps companies to offer products that in the subconscious we prefer among others? Should experimenting with the human subconscious (with the objective of earning money) be prohibited?
In other words, having influence in people’s subconscious and encourage them to purchase is manipulating? The definition of the RAE of manipulating is: Intertervening in politics, in markets, in the information, etc, with clever means or tools, while distorting the truth or justice, and with personal interests in stake.
The discussion is open and it is complex. In fact, the Neuromrketing Science & Business Association has recently created a code of ethics. Is it enough? My opinion is that the first step to be taken is letting the society know which companies use such techniques. This way, consumers can take better purchase decisions. What do you think?