Brain Business: How Neuromarketing Revolutionizes Advertising

  • Brain Business: How Neuromarketing Revolutionizes Advertising

    Megan van der Ham

    What goes on in consumers’ minds during a purchase? This is one of the important aspects to know when introducing a product on the market or when repositioning existing products. Lots of choices are made unconsciously, meaning that the consumer itself probably does not know exactly why they made their choice. In addition, people do not always do what they say and therefore, results could be biased. For companies, and mostly marketeers, it is important to know what really led people to come to their decision. This is where neuromarketing comes in. Neuromarketing is a relatively new field that applies medical techniques and insights from neuroscience in the field of marketing. This is done to get a better grasp of the effectiveness of campaigns and communications, leading to better predicting the behaviour, choices and decisions of consumers. There are two levels in neuromarketing taking place sequentially: performing the research and afterwards applying the insights in marketing. 

    To know if something is attractive to consumers, brain activity is measured by performing different forms of research. EEG measures electrical activity in the brain, by adhering electrodes to the scalp. fMRI measure brain activity by indicating oxygen levels in blood when creating an image of the brain. Eye tracking measures eye position and eye movement, thus where some is looking at and how fast their eyes move. These three methods are the most popular methods to measure brain activity. Once the data is collected from one of these three methods or any other usable method, the insights are unravelled and applied in the company’s strategy. Main areas where neuromarketing is popular are advertising/branding, shopping behaviour and pricing. Since this is very broad, the goal is to let you identify with neuromarketing by exposing everyday scenario’s where neuromarketing played a role.

    One reason why neuromarketing is used, is to increase sales. Have you ever seen a commercial starring a celebrity? One of the best-known examples is George Clooney for Nespresso. Well, it is proven that celebrities are effective, since there is a carryover effect of positive feelings from celebrity to product1. This is one way to increase the consumers’ awareness. Another way to increase sales is by applying the results of neuromarketing to the product itself. This is done in multiple ways, such as improving packaging by choosing the right colours, design, etc. One example is Frito-Lay, which is a subsidiary of PepsiCo. The company wanted to increase the sales of their potato chips among women. Using neuromarketing they found that women feel less guilty about buying it when softer colours were used, and pictures of the ingredients were put on the packaging2. Additionally, the company changed the packaging from shiny to matte, since customers showed a negative response to the shiny packaging3. This proves that without you knowing, you get ‘tricked’ into buying products that seem more attractive to you because of the way the packaging is done. By some people, this can be seen as unethical.

    However, neuromarketing is not only used to influence consumers with the end goal of increasing profit. It is also used to influence people when it comes to important decisions such as health. This is done by influencing people’s behaviour, while at the same time their choices are not constrained, also known as nudging. Think about the new donor law in the Netherlands, ‘Yes, unless …’, which means that people are registered as organ donor automatically and if they do not want to, they can change it. This means that people have to take steps themselves, which takes effort and therefore will not always be done, leading to more organ donors than with the previous donor system which was ‘No, unless …’. Another area where neuromarketing is often used, is creating environmental awareness. One particularly interesting example which made me think about my behaviour, is the following:

    Here, WWF is nudging people to save paper towels, by showing that every time you take a paper towel it negatively affects the forests. This resulted in people using less paper towels. In cases like these, neuromarketing can then be seen as ethical.

    To summarize, medical techniques are applied to measure the effectiveness of certain strategies. This leads to marketeers being able to influence your decision-making in ways that most people are not aware of. This is done with different end goals, such as increasing profit as well as increasing awareness of important issues including health and the environment. Because of these different end goals, the discussion of whether neuromarketing is ethical remains.

    Would you like to learn more about neuromarketing? There is a Neuromarketing & Innovation Event organized by MAEUR, taking place on 13 and 14 April 2021. This is the first edition of the first-ever student-organized neuromarketing event in the Netherlands, revolving around the theme ‘Mindblown: Exploring brain data’. Here students of diverse backgrounds are brought together with researchers that will introduce the Neuromarketing landscape from both the academic as well as the business perspective. People that will speak on the event are Prof. Dr. Ale Smidt and Dr. Alexander Genevsky, who are two RSM professors and Mr. Hang-yee Chan, who is a Postdoctoral Researcher at UvA. Ale Smidt’s recent publications include cognitive control in honesty, and effectiveness of scent intensity on shopping behaviour. Alexander Genevsky’s recent publications include video engagement, and neuroforecasting choices and crowdfunding. Hang-yee Chan’s recent publications include engagement in movie-trailers and commercials and brain responses on brand image. As can be seen, the topics of neuromarketing research vary widely. Participating in this event is your chance to get to know the (work) field of Neuromarketing. Register before 31 March 2021 to ensure a spot, and get ready to meet the experts!

    1 Stallen, M., Smidts, A., Rijpkema, M., Smit, G., Klucharev, V. and Fernández, G. (2010). Celebrities and shoes on the female brain: The neural correlates of product evaluation in the context of fame. Journal of Economic Psychology, 31, 802-811.

    2 Walden University (2021). How Neuromarketing Is Being Used in Business Management. Retrieved from:,they%20complete%20focus%20group%20testing. 

    3 Farnsworth, B. (March 5, 2019). 15 Powerful Examples of Neuromarketing in Action. Retrieved from: