Neuromarketing – A Brief Introduction by Example

This is your brain. This is your brain on brand. This is neuromarketing.

In this article, we introduce neuromarketing through two of my favorite examples of nueromarketing in action.

When marketers set out to win hearts and minds, we rarely call on cardiologists. Neurologists, however, are a different story.

What is Neuromarketing?

Drawing from the academic field of consumer neuroscience, neuromarketing applies lessons in brain science to marketing, advertising, and sales efforts.

In the lab, consumer neuroscience makes use of functional MRI, galvanic response, facial action coding and other advanced technologies to dive into our decision-making processes without relying on our later reported rationalization.

In the field, brands employ these quantifiable learnings to design better products and better consumer experiences.

Both neuromarketing and marketing psychology are immeasurably valuable, but neuromarketing does aim to be ‘more measurable’ with an impressive array of medical technologies.

Common tools in neuromarketing include:

  • Functional MRI (fMRI) – This tool allows researchers to watch brain activity in specific centers of the brain to discern some level of understanding in the cognition process.
  • Galvanic Skin Response Sensor (GSR) – This tool detects small amounts of sweat which can form as the result of physical excitement.
  • Eye Tracking – Specialized software and cameras allow researchers to watch what draws a participant’s stare, and how they visually take in anything from simple packaging to website designs to entire rows of a grocery store.
  • Electroencephalography (EEG) – Small sensors detect electrical activity in areas of the brain. This was the go-to before fMRI but remains valuable as a more portable, and affordable option than a multimillion dollar machine. (EEG equipment can be had for a few hundred dollars, and connects to your laptop’s USB.)

So, why all the technology to monitor a brain at work? Why not just ask? Because you’re a bad judge of wine, that’s why.

Examples of Neuromarketing

Neuromarketing in Action: Science Kills the Wine Snob

In a 2009 Caltech and Stanford University ran an experiment that uncovered a little on how the consumer’s brain experiences fine wines, or at least the price of those wines.

Subjects were given five wine samples while they lay in a functional MRI (fMRI) machine. This allowed researchers to watch areas of the brain ‘light up’ while the participant sipped.

Wine samples were presented ranging in price from $5 to $90/bottle.

Unsurprisingly, higher dollar wines were reported as more enjoyable, and the fMRI confirmed showing pleasure centers of the brain ‘lighting up’ more for higher dollar wine sips.

However, there’s a bit of a twist.

Only three wines were presented in the five-wine taste test. Some wines were used twice, presented as both a high and low dollar wine sample.

Presented as its actual $90/bottle price, one fine wine was rated as highly enjoyable. But when presented as a $10 wine, participants ranked it amongst the lowest.

Similarly, a discount wine was ranked as more enjoyable when paired with a higher price tag.

Applied, the study carries huge weight in luxury pricing and acts as a caution in trying to price a quality product too low for the competitive edge.

Bookmark this to read the full study direct from Caltech: Wine Study Shows Price Influences Perception. It’s fascinating, and a bit humbling if you’re a wine lover.

Neuromarketing isn’t just an academic field, it’s a profit center for the world’s largest companies. Well-funded brands are conducting their own research in the development of products, pricing strategies and even packaging.

Neuromarketing in Action: The Potato Chips Bag that Shines, Doesn’t Sell

A few years ago, you’d think junk food packaging was fairly straight forward.

From the Pringles promise of ‘once you pop, you just can’t stop’ to the Lay’s challenge of ‘bet you can’t eat just one,’ chips were unabashedly a guilty pleasure, with an emphasis on pleasure.

Further, if you want your bag to be noticed on the shelf, it was rudimentary that it better be brightly colored and (literally) shine.

And so most chip packaging looked pretty similar for many years. Kitsch, vibrant and a bit of a nod to the naughty.

In 2009, Frito-Lays began experimenting with alternative designs which would reduce the sensation of guilt at purchase, by emphasizing.

Participants were presented with various packaging options while monitored by fMRI.

In traditional approaches (bold colors, and bags as shiny as the greased chips they hold), the expected guilt was present – measurable as activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region associated with sensations of guilt

However, a more muted design which included agricultural cues such as a potato no longer triggered that guilt response.

Lays had discovered a guilt-free chip, and it didn’t take a single change to their recipe, only the packaging.

Lays bags continue to evolve, but continue to include the image remains of chips being sliced from a humble potato, and no longer does the brand challenge your glut.

Other lessons from the test include matte packaging and a toned-down beige in place of the brand’s typical bright yellow resulting in guilt-free packaging – both lessons live on in the brand’s baked line.

Today, Lays is a dominant force in their market segment and is one of the most valuable segments for holding company Pepsico.

Neuromarketing for Any Brand

Collecting and testing lessons from the lab for your own brand may be the competitive edge you need to sprint ahead of your competition. No lab? No problem.

You wouldn’t let a lack of a nutrition lab and specialized degree stop you from making healthy decisions at lunch. Don’t let a lack of an fMRI machine in the copy room be an excuse to miss out on the latest science for your brand.

While most brands wouldn’t share their research openly, academia makes lessons in consumer neuroscience available to the masses, and often freely accessible through tools such as Google Scholar. If you can drudge through the academic lingo, it’s an exciting time for the field.

For those of us that prefer plain English, authors such as Roger Dooley, author of Brainfluence ( have dedicated themselves to decoding the academic into actionable elements.

I credit Roger with rounding out my passion for consumer psychology’s ‘software’ with a curiosity for neuromarketing’s emphasis on ‘hardware.’ His book is well worth the read, and his podcast should not be missed.

Here on Digital Marketing Geek, we’ll be publishing several companion articles specific to neuromarketing for brands, including affordable testing tools, methodologies and how to steal the best ideas from academia. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe!

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