What happens when we walk on the roadside, have a lively conversation with a friend and a car drives past on the street in the background?
Would we notice the car at all? Would we remember it later? Probably not.
However, something remarkable still happens in our brains. Even if we are busy with other things or fully devoted to an entirely different task, other distracting products stimulate those brain areas that are involved in purchasing decisions. Supposing cars are used as the disturbing factor in an attention experiment, the brain activity recorded during this task can be used to predict whether the corresponding test person would buy the car or not.
In other words, our brain prepares purchase decisions at any time, without us being aware of it.
We owe this insight to a research collaboration of scientists from Berlin, Leipzig and Magdeburg. The study was published in 2010 by A. Tusche, S. Bode and J.D. Haynes in the prestigious Journal of Neuroscience and is still regarded as groundbreaking and highly cited evidence that buying decisions take place to a large extent without our conscious intervention.
Tusche and colleagues were of course not the first trying to understand with neuroscientific methods, how the human brain responds to marketing stimuli. Numerous studies on the processing of trademarks had already provided ample evidence that successful brands stimulate particular areas of the brain which are known to process emotions (e.g. McClure and colleagues, 2004) and that personal favorite brands evoke entirely different neural patterns, than brands at number two, three and four on the personal popularity rating scale (Deppe and colleagues, 2005).
These studies provided valuable evidence that brand management has to do mainly with emotion management and brands have to deliver an emotional added value if you want to cut out the competition in the sense of “the winner takes it all.” They also explained the so-called Pepsi-Paradox (Koenigs and Tranel, 2008). The objectively better taste or possibly lower price doesn’t really matter, it is solely the emotional evaluation of a product which will decide whether we buy it or not.
And even if emotional brand management and subjectively higher quality come together, once there is a top dog (Coca Cola), there is (almost) no getting around it.
Buying decisions are based almost exclusively on activity in “emotional” brain areas, if one generalizes the results of Knutson and colleagues (2007). This means that not only brands, but also advertising and all other marketing activities would do well to reach the consumer emotionally.
Of course, that almost inevitably poses the question of what such an emotional appeal should look like...
And here too, there was a major breakthrough in 2010 which was the use of neuroscientific methods in advertising effectiveness research.
A Polish research group led by Rafal Ohme was able to prove in a series of different experiments, that the effectiveness of TV commercials often depends on very short, barely consciously perceptible sequences, when it comes to triggering the view to a purchase decision. Do you remember the first commercial for the Sony Bravia flat screen TV?
Figure 1: First commercial for the Sony Bravia flat screen TV
The commercial received many awards and is still regarded as a very successful example of good advertising. It is creative, entertaining and SONY could not complain about the success of the Bravia.
From a neuromarketing perspective, however, of interest is a short scene, less than 2 seconds, which if removed, decreases the effect of the commercial measurably.
Can you guess which one?
You can find the solution to the question at the following link: (german)
It has since been demonstrated that scenes like the one in this TV commercial emotionalize and thereby influence the subsequent purchasing behavior significantly. In a control experiment, a customer was 14% more likely to purchase the advertised product if such an emotional key effect was included in the commercial.
14% more sales because of a 1.8 seconds long sequence that is usually not even remembered in a direct survey ...
No wonder that resultantly, numerous companies have been created to verify with neuroscience methodology if advertisements or commercials contain such effective scenes, especially EEG and fMRI. Much of what we are shown nowadays on television has been checked in advance with neuromarketing methods, especially when it comes to well-known companies.
Whether Apple, Coca Cola, VW or big movies such as the James Bond series: they all have been associated with neuromarketing.
Reversely, does this mean that we as consumers are now spending more money than before 2010? Statistically, yes.
Is this change because of the introduction of neuromarketing? Probably not.
A Finnish neuromarketing agency investigated a few years ago, how much “good” (in the sense of effectiveness being neuroscientifically detectable) TV advertising is actually being broadcast with a frightening result. Only 38% of the hundreds of advertising seconds examined had a detectable effect on the consumer brain.
And even worse: Of these 38%, over half, namely 24%, had negative effects. This means that only 14% of all examined advertising seconds had a beneficial influence on sales.
As it stands, we have no need to worry. In spite of neuromarketing, most advertising is just bad.
Published on 05/13/2016 by Benny Briesemeister.
Benny B. Briesemeister completed his doctorate in neurocognitive psychology at the FU Berlin. Since 2011 he has been researching the link between neuro science and marketing. He was granted the title ”Neurotalent of the Year 2015“ by the NMSBA.