Did you know that seeing the ‘Smoking Kills’ warning that is printed on Cigarette Packs actually activates the brain region that is linked with Craving? Or better yet, did you know that when Babies in advertisements look straight ahead, it can actually distract the observer from the product/service being advertised? As a result, these advertisements tend to have the babies look toward the service/product image so that the observer’s attention is also directed toward it.
These are just a few examples of Neuromarketing, the field that studies the physiological responses of buyers to various marketing strategies. On the surface, Neuromarketing appears to be a fascinating and spell-binding discipline. But when one realises that the data collected in this field will be applied to make consumers buy more (consciously or unconsciously), the fascination takes a back seat to the feeling of being manipulated.If you feel that way, you are not alone. From the strategic use of colour psychology to carefully selected phrases, where is the line between being sold and being manipulated?
Is Neuromarketing actually manipulative?
Neuromarketing can feel invasive to the consumer because it does not simply observe behaviour, or explain it. It goes one step further and tries to alter it in subtle, unconscious ways. Some may feel that their behaviour is being controlled without consent, and others can feel that their freedom in purchasing choices is restricted.
Both these viewpoints have solid counterarguments. Firstly, the assumption that Neuromarketing is controlling behaviour without consent is debatable. For one, neuromarketing studies use safeguards like informed consent to protect participant rights. Additionally, human behaviour does not exist in a vacuum - it is, naturally, influenced in some way, to some extent, by the external environment in ways beyond any control or consent. No human beings exist outside the realm of influence and this is simply the human condition.
Secondly, there is no sure-shot way to ‘control’ consumer behaviour. Purchasing choices are a part of the consumer’s freedom. Neuromarketing is not an irresistible form of nonconsensual hypnosis - it simply sees what minor changes can encourage purchasing decisions. It cannot, in any sense, make a consumer buy something they do not wish to buy. Imagine the influence of Neuromarketing to be a gentle nudge, instead of a shove.
But this raises another important question - these minor instances of manipulation, are they inherently wrong?
Rewriting the Narrative
Neuromarketing, when used to encourage purchasing, can result in consumers gaining a product worth their time and money. In fact, it is mainly through advertising strategies that consumers are exposed to services and products that significantly improve their life quality, satisfaction and ability. Marketing, at its core, is making people aware of a need and offering a solution. To bring about this awareness, strategies to capture and hold consumer attention is crucial. This is where the intentional use of colour, imagery and wording comes in handy - it can act as a means of communication with the consumer on a subconscious level.
Manipulation, as per the American Psychological Association, refers to “Behaviour designed to exploit, control, or otherwise influence others to one's advantage”. Neuromarketing only deals with the ‘influence’ part of this definition. As stated, exploitation and control of behaviour are lofty goals that neuromarketing strategies cannot dream to achieve.
So yes, Neuromarketing can be, in some innocent ways, slightly manipulative. The use of colours, imagery and words can alter consumer perceptions and perspectives - although not to the degree to threaten autonomy or control consumer behaviour. Rest assured that your purchasing choices, at the end of the day, are yours entirely.
MBA in General Management- FastTrack
Guglielmo Marconi University, Italy
Strategic Human Resource Management Practitioner
Chartered Management Institute, UK
Extended Diploma in International Business and Strategy
Scottish Qualifications Authority, UK
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