Neuromarketing: The Dark vs. Light Side of Neuroscience

At eLearning Mind, we focus our efforts on understanding the way the brain works and apply neuroscience as a method to make learning an organic and highly efficient process. But if our commitment to neuroscience is a noble one, it’s the dark side of neurolearning that consumers need to be aware of: Neuromarketing.

We use our powers for good, but in marketing agencies across the country, the same principles we use for learning are being applied to the consumer collective to entice customers and drive sales. Using what we know about neuroscience and the brain’s reaction to certain stimuli peels back the curtain on how marketers use the same powers for a less-than-noble cause.

The Science of Influence

Think about the last commercial you watched for a drug: An antidepressant, for example. Pharmaceutical companies leverage neuroscience to create a reaction in would-be patients using the structure of the commercial.

First, it’s the set up. An unenthusiastic voiceover is paired with gray graphics, automatically changing your mood to match. Next, the commercial then triggers an emotional response by finding common ground: Do you ever feel tired? (Don’t we all?) Are you sometimes not yourself? (It happens to the best of us). The commercial offers up broad life experiences that nearly everyone experiences at some time in their life, which makes the viewer feel both singled out and justified. You were feeling fine before, but now you’re wondering if you should see your doctor.

The next segment of the commercial is the cure. The voiceover changes and the graphics reflect a sunnier disposition. Suddenly, the same character that was feeling hopeless and fatigued is depicted enjoying activities again. Your brain responds to the change in tone and picture, creating a positive association between the displayed images and whatever medication the commercial is advertising.

Finally, the last segment is displayed. The FDA requires that side effects be listed any time a pharmaceutical commercial touts health benefits, and marketers typically tack these onto the end of the advertisement. Not only that, the voiceover changes: It becomes monotonous where it was once expressive. The picture often changes, blurs, or becomes routine, signaling your brain that the included information isn’t important. Neuromarketers want you to stop paying attention so that the side effects don’t discourage you from taking the drug.

Almost all drug commercials end by circling back to the second phase of the advertisement, which depicts how the patient feels after taking the drug. Maybe he’s playing a round of golf with friends or suddenly enjoying the sun on his face. Either way, your brain is left with a lasting positive impact.

Knowing Neuromarketing

Once you’re aware of how marketers use neuroscience to influence your decisions, you can spot the tactic nearly everywhere. From enhanced storytelling to eliciting an emotional response, clever ads trick your brain into thinking that a product will significantly improve your quality of life–no strings attached. Of course, as neurolearning experts, we know that something more sinister is going on. The dark side of what we know about neuroscience is used to influence consumer behavior in favor of huge companies and clever marketing departments.

Now that marketers have unlocked the secrets of neuroscience, you can expect for campaigns to delve even deeper into how the brain influences certain buying behaviors. For our part, we’ll continue to use what we know about brain science as a way to improve knowledge retention, improve learning efficiency, and understand the difference between true emotional response and a clever marketing tool.