It’s New, It’s Hip, It’s Neuromarketing!

Within the last decade a new marketing strategy has emerged, which utilizes the study of neuroscience in the creation of advertising campaigns. This field has appropriately been deemed “neuromarketing.” Neuromarketing uses several different methods to determine what consumers want based on their neurological reactions to certain products. The five most commonly used methods are the tracking of eye or facial movements, voice analysis, skin conductance, and electroencephalography (EEG) where changes in the brain’s electric current in the form of brain waves are recorded. This attempt to use science to inform advertising is not a new concept, cognitive psychologist known as “motivational researchers” were often hired by marketers in the 1950s to study customers’ buying habits. Neuromarketing just brings this to a whole new level by incorporating the study of the brain rather than relying on behavioral data alone.

Neuromarketer Patrick Renvoise urges marketers to appeal to the “reptilian brain” of potential buyers in his 2013 TED talk. He explains that the reptilian brain is the instinctual part of the brain deep within the brain’s structure and contrasts it to the neocortex or rational brain. By appealing to the instinctual reptilian brain, marketers will tap into the primal fears and emotions of consumers thus leading to the sale of products they may not even need. Renvoise outlines 6 concepts used in advertising to appeal to the reptilian brain: the use of the word “you,” contrasting between two images/concepts, making concepts tangible/visual, having a memorable beginning and end, and eliciting emotion.

Renvoise gives a good general outline of what neuromarketing is, but looking at the literature on it provides more details on specific findings. As might be expected, products can stimulate the brain’s reward pathway. The viewing of preferred consumer goods activated the nucleus accumbens (Knutson et al., 2007), an area highly associated with reward. Likewise, packaging judged to be attractive elicited higher activations of the reward pathway compared to unattractive or functional packages (Reimann et al., 2010). Attractive packaging can also more effectively activate brain regions associated with visual processing and attention, such as the occipital lobe and the precuneus (Stoll et al., 2008).

Memory for brands and advertisements also makes up a large part of this research. Familiar brand names activate the hippocampus, suggesting that buyers are tapping into previous memories of the brand while viewing them (McClure et al., 2004). For TV advertisements, higher activation of the left hemisphere corresponds to better memory for certain ads (Vecchiato et al., 2010).

These and many other studies have revealed much about how the consumer brain works. It may seem manipulative or just downright creepy for advertisers to be using neuroscience to exploit us, but it also provides many valuable insights on how reward, memory, and attention function in daily life.

Check out Patrick Renvoise’s TED talk here!


Knutson, B. & Wimmer, G. E. (2007). Splitting the difference: How does the brain code reward episodes? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1104, 54–69

McClure, S. M., Li, J., Tomlin, D., Cypert, K. S., Montague, L. M., Montague, P. R. (2004). Neural correlates of behavioral preference for culturally familiar drinks. Neuron, 44, 379-387.

Reimann, M. & Bechara, A. (2010). The somatic marker framework as a neurological theory of decision-making: Review, conceptual comparisons, and future neuroeconomics research. Journal of Economic Psychology, 31, 767-776.

Solnais, C., Andreu-Perez, J., Sanchez-Fernandez, J., & Andreu-Abela, J. (2013). The contribution of neuroscience to consumer research: A conceptual framework and empirical review. Journal of Economic Psychology, 36, 68-81.

Stoll, M., Baecke, S., & Kenning, P. (2008). What they see is what they get? An fMRI-study on neural correlates of attractive packaging. Journal of Consumer Behavior, 7, 342-359.

Vecchiato, L., Astolfi, L., De Vico Fallani, F., Cincotti, F., Mattia, D., Salinari, S., et al. (2010). Changes in brain activity during the observation of TV commercials by using EEG, GSR and HR measurements. Brain Topography, 23, 165–179

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