Understanding your customers
Understanding your customers

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Understanding your customers

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.

Download this video clip.Video player: b206_2019j_vwr003-640x360.mp4
Skip transcript: Video 1 Neuromarketing: knowing why you buy

Transcript: Video 1 Neuromarketing: knowing why you buy

If there’s one thing that I've learned in life, it’s that people love babies, which is why, among other reasons, it seems like an obvious choice to use an image of a baby at the centre of a diaper ad. But what if using a baby could actually detract from the quality of an ad instead of engaging consumers?
Last year, I came across two versions of a diaper ad. They had the same content. The only difference is where the baby is looking. Take a second to look at these ads. Which one do you find more engaging? If you're anything like me, you most likely didn't notice much of a difference. But in reality, you actually process much more information from the second version the ad, and let me tell you why.
Eye tracking data was collected on 106 participants for both ads, and the differences are astounding. In the first version of the ad, people were so drawn to and distracted by the baby that they barely process any information. However, in the second version, marketers took advantage of visual biases and created an ad where people naturally followed the gaze of the baby reading much more of the text.
When I first saw these heat maps, I was shocked. How could something so seemingly insignificant create such major changes in the success of an ad? I began to research the other ways that marketers could take advantage of subconscious decision making processes and create better advertisements.
It dawned on me that in this day and age when we’re exposed to more than 4,000 ads every single day, psychology and neuroscience are essential to creating strong advertising. And, yes, you heard me right we really are exposed to more than 4,000 ads every single day. So to stand out in a sea of monotonous advertising, many brands are turning towards neuromarketing.
Neuromarketing is an emerging field of market research that uses neuroscience technology and principles to create better advertisements. Neuromarketers understand that consumers don't always do the things they say they’ll do. We react to the world around us in milliseconds, making subconscious emotional decisions that affect what we do and what we buy without us even realising it.
Think about it. How many times have you gone to the supermarket with a set list in mind only to make impulse purchases you totally didn't need? Or all the times you’ve been singing a song that just randomly popped into your head but in reality was just playing on the radio a few minutes earlier. These are both examples of how our subconscious affects our decisions, and now with modern technology, neuromarketers can measure these decisions and see how they affect our buying behaviours. By looking at the centres of our brain that deal with attention, memory and emotion, neuromarketers can measure our overall engagement with an ad and see how likely we are to buy a product because of it.
My obsession with neuromarketing led me to spend the summer working at Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience, a neuromarketing company in Boston. One day while talking with a friend about the worst ads we'd ever seen, we decided to do what any good neuromarketing interns would, perform a full-fledged analysis on the worst out of our generation, Kendall Jenner’s infamous Pepsi ad from 2016. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from the ad.
[SINGING] You better know who we are. We are the lions, we are the chosen. We are the movement, this generation.
I know you’re thinking. How could they get it so wrong? The ad was immediately met with outrage with viewers saying it trivialised recent protests, specifically the Black Lives Matter Movement. However, was the delivery and the quality of the ad poor, or was it just Pepsi's lack of social awareness that caused the ad to flop?
We began our analysis by looking at biometric engagement, a metric that measures your heart rate and galvanic skin response or how much you sweat. Basically the more engaged you are, the higher your heart rate gets and the more you begin to sweat, and biometrics measures and quantifies those changes. We also collected eye tracking data, facial coding data, and responses to a self-report on viewers’ impressions to the ad.
We first looked at the overall biometric engagement trace and immediately noticed that a huge portion of the ad fell below the purple line, which represents neutral engagement. This means that during these parts of the add, viewers were actively disengaged, not paying attention, and not processing the information being presented to them.
We then noticed that the first minute of the ad had a downward trend engagement, which is a red flag that something wasn't working. We hypothesised that this is due to the lack of context during the section of the ad as well as poor creative execution including quick cuts, odd angles, and obstructed faces. You may think that these things sound insignificant, but they've actually been proven to consistently lead to disengagement in advertisements.
This hypothesis was confirmed when we looked at the eye tracking data and saw consistently scattered heat maps during the first minute of the ad. This shows that viewers were not, did not have a central area focused during the ad and were fading out because of the scenes’ extended length.
We then looked at the facial coding data, which made the story even more interesting. Instead of negatively expressed emotion like we expected, because, duh, we actually found consistent positive reactions to the first minute of the ad. After cross referencing with the self-report responses, we found that viewers found the characters besides Kendall to be interesting and relatable. This was again confirmed by looking at the eye tracking data where we saw a consistent strong unified visual attention whenever the characters were on screen.
We then looked at the climax of the ad, the moment when Kendall hands the police officer the can of Pepsi. This moment lines exactly with the very bottom of the second valley. Eye tracking data showed that more than 95% of the audience was fixating on this moment. However, the low biometric engagement, negative facial coding, and responses to the self-report all show that viewers were both confused about what was happening, potentially because the shot of the disembodied hands, and also generally uncomfortable because of the social connotations of the ad.
However, the handoff wasn't a total failure. The supposing resolution to the conflict, along with the cheering by the protesters, led to an increase in engagement with viewers mirroring the positivity expressed on screen. The combination of this high engagement with a strong visual tension from the previous scene led to great final branding moment for Pepsi with 100% of the audience viewing the final branding for more than a third of the time it was on screen.
Not to toot my own horn, but isn't this pretty incredible? Neuromarketing gives such dynamic insights that standard market research can never give you. But there are also some ethical concerns that should be considered. Is the use of neuromarketing manipulative? What if neuromarketing was used on political campaigns or controversial topics or voting matters or even propaganda?
One of the biggest critiques of neuromarketing is that it takes advantage of its consumers. However, this takes a very simplistic view on what manipulation is and how neuromarketing affects advertising campaigns. Manipulation is the act of playing upon others' hopes and fears in order to get them to act and think in a certain way. Under this definition, all advertising marketing could be considered manipulation. And, yes, I'm sure many of you already had this opinion and think that advertising is the devil, but that is a totally different talk for a different day.
In all seriousness, advertisements are built to do one of two things − to form an opinion about a brand or to change an opinion about a brand. Advertisements are built to make us feel and think in a certain way, to make us desire things, and most importantly to engage us. Marketers are on a mission to see who can go the deepest into our brains to grab our attention. The idea that neuromarketing inherently makes advertising any more manipulative is absolutely absurd because everything we interact with influences us in some way or another.
Even now as I am speaking to you, my words in the way of communicating with you are influencing you and affecting your thought patterns. Didn't I just show you that one of the worst ads in recent years actually had some very strong moments, something that I'm sure many of you would have never said before?
So what can we do to protect ourselves from overly manipulative advertising while still allowing neuromarketing to create the strong engaging ads that it can? First, we must update the consumer bill of rights to include neuromarketing. The consumer bill of rights was created in 1962 by President John F Kennedy in order to protect the rights of consumers across the world. It includes the right into consumer education, which is the ability to acquire knowledge and make informed, confident decisions.
Although this definition may have been sufficient in the 60s, I believe needs to be updated to include neuromarketing and make restrictions on how it can be used. In my 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.
Second, we must embrace neuromarketing with open arms. In the same way that any new technology seems scary when it's first introduced, many people right now are afraid of neuromarketing and the implications that it has. However, I hope I've been able to show you today that there's no reason to fear neuromarketing and that we should accept it as the future of advertising.
With neuromarketing, we can create social good and avoid future Kendall Jenner Pepsi ads. With neuromarketing, we-- everyday advertisement can be as exciting as those during the Super Bowl. With neuromarketing, we can create strong brand associations that are as beneficial to customers as the brands themselves.
Neuromarketing is the reason we think innovation when we think Apple, adventure when we think Patagonia, childhood when we think Cheerios, or happiness when we think Coke. And who can't use a little more happiness in their life. Thank you.
End transcript: Video 1 Neuromarketing: knowing why you buy
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.


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