About a hundred years ago, companies in the Western world ran into a problem: Consumers had everything they needed. So, the companies came up with a great idea: Persuade people that they need more things! Even things they didn’t really know they needed.
Fast forward now, companies are studying consumers brain to get them to keep buying more stuff. And this is called neuromarketing.
Companies are trying to better understand how consumers brains works – to figure out what we really want. And that’s why neuromarketers have adopted a range of technologies in their marketing studies to see what’s actually happening inside consumers brains.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalograms measure activity in the brain. Eye-tracking shows where we direct our attention. Heart rate and skin conductance show what we find exciting.
For better or worse, people are complex and the brain is really complex. What neuroscience does is give access to some of these emotional elements or elements that might not be fully conscious and it shows a little bit more about some of the things that might be contributing to consumers experiences and choices.
Let’s take Cheetos for an example. When its parent company Frito-Lay asked consumers how they felt about the brand, many said: “Well, it is a bit of a kids snack.” But when they looked at their brains, it turned out people got a real kick out of getting their fingers messy with the orange dust that their fingers are covered with.
There was something subversive about that orange dust on your fingers. There was something a little unusual about it, and people kind of enjoyed it, even though it was not that respectable.
Frito-Lay took these findings and built an entire ad campaign around this feeling of subversive pleasure. It became a huge success.
More businesses are investing in this type of research – most of which is happening in secret. Through neuroscience – but also with the help of psychology and behavioral economics – they get a pretty good idea of what makes consumers tick.
And they use this knowledge to get consumers to buy more of their stuff.
Four examples which you might have probably seen in your everyday life are as follow:
1. Wearing You Down
Our brain operates in two different thinking modes. There is what is called system 1, which is fast, unconscious and automatic.
And then there’s system 2, which is deliberate and conscious – but takes a lot of effort.
If we were to ask you, what’s your name?, system 1 will immediately have an answer to that question.
But if we were to ask you, what’s 36 times 149, you are going to have to switch to system 2. This requires effort.
Now, imagine you are going for grocery shopping; You have to find your way around the different aisles and make loads of decisions in a short amount of time. When you finally get to the checkout counter, you are tired.
One way in which you can get somebody to be more system 1 oriented is actually through wearing them down. System 2 is very resource intensive, requires a lot of metabolic resources. When we are tired, when we are malnourished, we are much more likely to go with a much more impulsive system 1 response.
And that’s why right at the end of your shopping trip, retailers tempt you with loads of sugary snacks – that you might just pick up at the very last moment.
Shopping malls exploit the same situation. They are confusing, they are overwhelming, they are quite frankly exhausting – so consumers are more prone to spend more money on something they might not even need.
2. The Right Price
Let’s say you walk into a store and see a bottle of wine for $20 dollars. Your brain doesn’t really know if this is a lot or if this is not a lot. So, it immediately starts to look for some context.
Typically, people don’t really have a sense of price, they don’t really know how much wine should cost or what is the right price of a wine.
Consumers create their impressions of the price range not by knowledge or by information – but rather by sampling the reality.
So, the store will happily give your brain a reality to latch onto – by placing a second bottle next to it, costing $60 dollars. Now, your brain thinks: $20 dollars is actually a good deal, so it is very likely that you will buy this bottle.
3. The Hedonic Treadmill
Another quirk of our brain that brands are using is that it’s constantly seeking pleasure. And the keyword here really is ”seeking”.
Once you are experiencing the things you wanted, you don’t just get to bask in that pure pleasure for a long time. It is not the type of emotion which is enduring over time. And that’s actually a very good thing for brands.
Because pleasure is so fleeting, brands keep sending us to what is called the “hedonic treadmill.”
So for an example, let’s say you buy an iPhone11. It is a brand new physical design and you are loving it. And just 12 months later, iPhone12 comes out. Whatever pleasure you got from achieving and purchasing the earlier iPhone is now immediately gone. And now, you are looking to jump again on the hedonic treadmill and chase the next pleasure.
4. Hiding In Plain Sight
Check out this ad below from KFC. See anything unusual?
Well, look again. There’s an actual dollar bill photoshopped into the burger – which happens to cost $1 dollar.
And check out this can. Coca-Cola made it look like it’s smiling – to tie in with its brand image of happiness.
And in literally every ad for watches, the time is set to 10:10. Because that makes it look like the watch is smiling at you.
These type of subtle hints are called ‘primers’. It is easy to implement and the chances of it working is there, so there’s no harm in trying it.
Let’s say If you see a 10:10 watch, and you are already feeling like buying the watch, maybe because you are very favorable towards the brand, that additional data point in which you are seeing the smiling watch, is going to push you a little bit further in buying it.
And this is not limited to visual triggers. An experiment showed that if a wine store plays French music, customers buy more French wine. And if it plays German music, they buy more German wine.
In conclusion, neuromarketing is a very powerful tool. It gives companies access to something that even consumers don’t even have access to most of the time: The consumer’s subconscious.