(Sub)Conscious Consuming and Neuromarketing

In a culture in which reality is often overlayed with a no-less-real virtual reality, it seems fitting that we can now talk about "conscious consuming's" Orwellian double-meaning.

Neuromarketing, the practice of using neuroscience and medical technology to tap into people's subconscious desires, is becoming more popular, and perhaps less cost-prohibitive, with companies such as Microsoft, Google, Frito-Lay, The Weather Channel, and MTV signing up to reap its benefits. Thus the idea of conscious consuming has taken on a new meaning -- literally, are the products you buy and the policies you support your wants and your beliefs, or are they the byproduct of a brain study that found what factors stimulate your hypothalamus?

Sure, marketing manipulation has been the lifeblood of modern advertising since its inception -- whether through fear of the mundane (peer-approval) to the serious (death), class mobility, race and/or ethnic identification, or subliminal messaging, to name a few. Even more nowadays, this latest turn for advertising should come as no surprise given the vast amount of less-than-innocuous information gathered from our internet browsing and social networking.

Nevertheless, certain organizations are speaking out against the ethical issues that accompany neuromarketing. This video and petition from the World Business Academy is one example worth checking out:

And here is a link to their petition to Congress to "hold hearings to investigate the commercial and political uses of neuromarketing so the public can learn which companies and political candidates are using neuromarketing research to manipulate consumers’ and voters’ choices."
Given that political campaigns are evidently deeply threaded with neuromarketing strategies, it will be interesting to see how the petition goes over.

Image from The Guardian
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  1. Anonymous1:08 PM

    But isn't this what people really want. I mean it is getting kind-of complicated without as much product placement in shows these days. Who has time to really think about what their interests are. But alas, now they can really give me what I desire. I should have KNOWN all along.

  2. Ha! You're right -- and the neuromarketers should be making the same case: they're just helping out with time management!

  3. Anonymous2:44 AM

    I'm not sure I understand how someone else that does not know me can know what I want, when half the time I don't even know what I want.

  4. I find Frito Lays addition to the group interesting. How do they plan on using neuromarketing?

  5. A NY Times article just a couple of weeks ago talked about Frito-Lay's marketing overhaul stemming from their neuromarketing findings. Evidently, they turned to "pop neurology" to find out more about "women's feelings about snacking and guilt." Here's the excerpt about the study:

    "Juniper Park used neuromarketing in a slightly different way. Ms. Nykoliation began by researching how women’s brains compared with men’s, so the firm could adjust the marketing accordingly. Her research suggested that the communication center in women’s brains was more developed, leading her to infer that women could process ads with more complexity and more pieces of information.

    "A memory and emotional center, the hippocampus, was proportionally larger in women, so Ms. Nykoliation concluded that women would look for characters they could empathize with.

    "And research Ms. Nykoliation read linked the anterior cingulate cortex, which processes decision-making and was larger in women, to feelings of guilt. (Experts differ on how directly functions or feelings are associated with various parts of the brain.) Ms. Nykoliation then asked NeuroFocus to review her assumptions and, as Juniper Park developed ads, to test the ads to verify that women liked them.

    "She was especially interested by the guilt factor. Frito-Lay and Juniper Park asked about 100 women to keep journals about their lives for about two weeks. According to their logs, the women felt guilty about quite a lot, whether it was snacking, not seeing their children enough, or not spending enough time with their husbands.

    "Though Frito-Lay had often tried advertising snacks as guilt-free, this led to the conclusion that 'we’re not going to alleviate her guilt,' Ms. Nykoliation said. 'This is something in her life. So the question for us was, how do we not trip her guilt?'"

    So Frito-Lay adjusted their marketing to make eating their chips seem a less guilty experience for women. The chips will also now be found at the end of aisles, because it appears women don't like clutter.

    Here's a link to the article:


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