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Understanding your customers
Understanding your customers

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2.3 Neuromarketing

Neuromarketing uses brain science to observe and understand how customers perceive stimuli like advertising and the sensory aspects of product and service experience. Its advocates see it as a key to unlock the mysteries of decision making.

In the following 2018 TEDx video, Sam Usher, an engineering psychology graduate from Tufts University, outlines neuromarketing in practice and concludes with some ethical considerations about the contexts in which it should be used.

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Video 1 Neuromarketing: knowing why you buy
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Activity 7 Ethical issues in neuromarketing

Timing: Allow 15 minutes for this activity

Use the text box below to record your thoughts in answer to the ethical issues Usher raises. What, if anything, should neuromarketing not be used for? When you have noted down your views reveal the Discussion to complete this activity.

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Usher says that, in his opinion, ‘neuromarketing should only be allowed on consumer products, not in political campaigns, not on controversial topics, not on voting matters, and definitely not in propaganda. The risk of manipulation is just too high.’ He also stipulates that neuromarketing should be included in legislation designed to protect the consumer.

But Usher also plays down the extent to which neuromarketing itself can be seen as particularly manipulative – arguing that advertising is all about trying to change our opinions and behaviour, and that everything we interact with influences us in some way. He adds towards the end of the talk that neuromarketing can be used for social good – but does not specify exactly what he has in mind. Perhaps encouraging people to eat more healthily or take more exercise might be ways in which neuromarketing could be applied in a socially productive way. But even then, many would argue, it might be much more effective to persuade people to make a rational choice to change their behaviour for the better as such conscious decisions are more likely to stick.