(This is the second of three posts in a series about neuromarketing criticisms. The first post is here.)
This concern is closely to the question from the previous post about mind-reading. If neuromarketers can read our minds, they can discover ways to manipulate us into buying things that we wouldn’t buy otherwise. In other words, if they can find the “buy buttons” hidden in our brains, they can push them.
The popular press loves the “buy button” metaphor and regularly suggests that neuroscientists are on the verge of identifying this magical source of consumer control that will allow marketers to turn consumers into mindless buying machines (we prefer the term zombie consumers) at the marketer’s command.
There is only one flaw in this deliciously terrifying scenario: Brains don’t work that way. There is no “buy button” in the brain. Purchase decisions are complex behaviors that play out over time, engage both conscious and nonconscious processes, force trade-offs between anticipation of reward and the pain of paying for it and, most important, are subject to a multitude of influences that exist outside the buyer’s mind. Ferrari may try to press the “buy button” in your brain as often as it likes, but until you have $250,000 in your bank account, you’re not going to buy that new Testarossa.
We do believe that neuromarketing, properly deployed, can result in products and brands that are more appealing to consumers, increase the effectiveness of marketing, and result in higher sales, revenues, and profits. Currently this is a hypothesis rather than a proven fact, but it’s being tested around the world. We believe that a science-based understanding of neuromarketing principles can create opportunities for marketers to influence consumers’ decisions and actions more effectively. This will happen not because marketers have more control, but because they’ll be providing products that are more appealing.
As the novelist William Gibson has famously observed, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” And so it is with neuromarketing. If this new field confers a competitive advantage to its early adopters, it will grow into a mainstream practice, and those advantages will even out across the marketplace. If it makes marketing more efficient and less wasteful, those savings will spread back into the economy in the form of lower prices, better products, or increased shareholder value. If it doesn’t confer competitive value, it’ll be displaced by other methodologies that perform better. Either way, these significant changes will occur without any “buy buttons” being pressed.