What if there was a way for you to know precisely what to say, and how to say it, to get the things you wanted and needed? Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly what to say to land that job you really want? Or to get your kids to do the dishes without you having to nag them? Or to get your partner to behave like your dream man/woman? Or to target your marketing message so your completely awesome product gets the attention (and world domination) it deserves?
That would be sweet, right?
But what happens when the tables are turned on that scenario? How would you feel knowing that the politician you just voted for manipulated your unconscious mind using information he/she got from using brain science? Would you be ok knowing that Pepsi got you to switch from Coca-Cola by using brain scans to determine how to construct an ad that would tap into your reptilian, pre-conscious brain? Does it make you uncomfortable to know that some ads you watch may have been carefully designed to target the irrational part of your brain?
That’s exactly how the lines are already being drawn between the field of neuromarketing and consumers. Big business and neuroscientists are gathering behind closed doors with consumer guinea pigs to find out what triggers our loyalty, our brand memory, and our impulse to buy one product versus another, and it’s exciting news for business, and for neuroscientists who suddenly have the possibility of lucrative jobs. It’s rather disturbing news for those who are about to be, or unwittingly already are, on the other side of these highly targeted marketing techniques.
But haven’t advertisers already figured out how to influence us? Look around your house. If you died tomorrow, how long would it take for the products that surround you to disappear from this earth? A lot longer than it took you. Look around again. How much of that “stuff” is essential to your survival? Not much. And yet, when we buy, we are often fooled into thinking we “need”, not that we “want”, and certainly rarely can we admit we’ve been brainwashed by the advertisers through compelling copy, the website design, the message, the packaging, the brand cult, whatever.
Haven’t we, as a collective culture, also often been excited about the possibility of influencing others if we can? Think of all the books and gurus we’ve thrown money at over the years that promise we’ll be able to land that job, raise our children perfectly, get the raise we want, etc, all through influencing others. All those theories, whether they knew it or not at the time the books were written, were calls to appeal to the reptilian pre-conscious brain.
So what about neuromarketing is such a loaded concept? Probably because it moves from theory to fact. Because it moves from the few with intuitive talent about human nature, to the many with the money to afford the technology. Because it flies in the face of what we believe about ourselves; that we make our decisions rationally, that we have will power, and that with the use of that will power we can choose what we want.
It is unlikely that neuromarketing, or using new findings in brain science to market, is going to go away any time soon. How do marketers ensure the ethical use of such knowledge? Where do we draw the line between good marketing, good science, and individual rights?
I invite you to sound off in comments, and if you would like to join what should be a very interesting Twitter discussion on the topic, follow me on Twitter and look for #nmchat on Monday, January 25th at 10 a.m. EST.