There really is no limit to how far companies are willing to
go to get inside the heads of consumers—literally. At least, that’s the
take-home message I got from a new article
in Time about “neuroadvertising,” the
business of using new neuroscientific understanding to, well, generate more business.
Among the strategies outlined in the article: better use of
the full range of our senses. For years marketing professionals have relied on
imagery and colors to sell their products while largely ignoring the impact of
sounds, neuromarketing researcher and business consultant Martin Lindstrom says. “Eighty-three percent of all forms of
advertising principally engage only one of our senses: sight.”
But familiar sounds can trigger equally powerful responses,
he points out. To find some of the best candidates, he has studied emotional
responses to various sounds, by monitoring brain activity, pupil dilation,
sweat responses and facial twitches. The
noise with the biggest response? A baby’s laugh.
I’ve noticed in my own life that, while most advertisements
focus on jingles and slogans, familiar sounds can elicit a stronger reaction. I
have added several songs to my iPod after I heard them in commercials—but,
honestly, I end up forgetting the origins of the songs. The sizzling steak in
the Outback Steakhouse commercial on the other hand: Not only does it make my
mouth water—it always calls to mind the restaurant.
(This idea of consumer sensory manipulation, by the way
reminds me of the previous attempts—although possibly on the path to revival—of
smell-o-vision. Used in movie theaters
in the 1950s, smells were released during certain sections of the movie to give
a more authentic experience. They didn’t work very well—perhaps because no
neuromarketers were on hand to guide their development.)
In the article, Read Montague, a
neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, explains why certain sensory
experiences can have such strong effects. “Cultural messages that get into your
nervous system are very common and make you behave certain ways,” he says. In
commercials that go wrong, he adds, advertisers miscue these messages. Abstract
music paired with a visually enticing picture can confuse the brain, for
instance, causing the insula and orbital frontal cortex regions to frantically
try to make sense of the stimulation.
The fuel for neuromarketing doesn’t just come from dedicated
researchers. General studies, such as those looking at the effect of competitive
environments and product
placement on consumer decision-making, also provide fodder.
As the article notes, switching off your TV is no escape; brick-and-mortar
retailers are also catching on to the trend.
A department store in Japan has incorporated individualized soundtracks
for each department (I can only wonder what the lingerie department sounds
It seems that none of our senses are safe from marketing
efforts, so hold onto your wallet and get ready for a very stimulating future.