Before we take a deep dive into examples of how companies have used neuromarketing to inform their decision-making process, let’s first define the term.

What is neuromarketing?

According to “Strategic Brand Management,” a textbook written by Kevin Lane Keller and Vanitha Swaminathan, neuromarketing is defined as “the study of how the brain responds to marketing stimuli, including brands.” (Ed. 15, Chapter 10, Page 339)

Another term for neuromarketing is “consumer neuroscience.” A report (Neuromarketing: What You Need to Know) by Harvard Business Review writer Eben Harrell further describes neuromarketing as: “the measurement of physiological and neural signals to gain insight into customers’ motivations, preferences, and decisions.”

There have been innovative studies on the science behind consumer decision-making, studies that have lead to actionable insights taken by companies like PayPal, Campbell’s Soup, and Frito-Lay, to name just a few.

In 2004, Emory University researchers conducted a study whereby subjects that were hooked up to an fMRI machine (functional magnetic resonance imaging) were served Pepsi and Coca-Cola. The idea was to track the blood flow to the brain to understand how the subjects responded to various stimuli. They found that when the subjects did not know that brand they were drinking, their neural responses were “consistent.”

However, when they DID know the brand, the parts of the brain that control memories, emotions, and sub/unconscious processing lit up. To researchers, this indicated that knowing what the brand was, affected the subject’s neural activity.

To give a few examples, Chips Ahoy used other neuromarketing techniques to redesign the packaging for their famous (and delicious cookies). These techniques were EEG (electroencephalogram), a technology used to monitor brain activity, and eye-tracking, which does exactly what the name suggests: it follows where your eyes are looking at, how long they stay there, etc. The purpose was to discover what particular design elements their target audience liked and/or disliked.

Photo by Grayson Smith on Unsplash

When the study was conducted, Nabisco (the company that owns the brand Chips Ahoy) was surprised to learn that consumers disliked the packaging’s resealable feature. People felt it was “too obnoxious, too difficult to read and the cookie visual on the front drew neutral (boring) emotions.”

As a result, Nabisco redesigned their packaging by making some subtle changes, which were to make the cookie image more salient (by using a different image), and making the text more legible.

There are very significant results that support neuromarketing as a science more than a work of fiction, but one thing is true: it is a form for marketers to ‘manipulate’ consumer decision-making, however difficult it may be to uncover the true source of someone’s decision-making process.