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Can neuromarketing make you want things that aren’t good for you?

September 30, 2014 0 Comments

(This is the third post in a series about neuromarketing criticisms. The first two posts are here and here.)

child and fast foodPeople doing things that aren’t good for them is a serious personal and public policy problem, sometimes with tragic consequences. But it’s a problem that was with us long before the birth of neuromarketing, and it’s a problem that will remain with us as long as we fight the perennial battle in our own minds between resisting and surrendering to temptation.

Critics who fear that neuromarketing will make temptation even harder to resist have a point. To the extent that products and marketing are fine-tuned to resonate with the more primitive, nonconscious parts of our brains, they will become harder to resist. Especially if people aren’t aware that they’re being influenced, their ability to resist will be severely compromised. This concern is legitimate.

However, critics are wrong when they view neuromarketing as a weapon that can be used only by marketers to erode consumers’ ability to control temptations. In fact, the brain science on which neuromarketing is built is not a weapon for one side or the other. As this science continues to improve our understanding of why people engage in self-destructive behavior, the knowledge it uncovers can be used to develop practical solutions to counter such behavior, not just exploit that behavior. The only question is who will choose to use it.

As we discuss in Chapter 12 (“The Shopping Brain and In-Store Marketing”), personality traits and orientations may have a much larger impact on self-destructive behaviors of all kinds (overeating, addiction, compulsive behavior, excessive risk taking, and so on) than any sort of marketing message, no matter how finely tuned and targeted that message might be.

Neuromarketing does not literally make us buy things, or do things, whether those things are good for us or not. Marketing is certainly in the business of trying to make us buy things, and neuromarketing is certainly in the business of helping marketing, but ultimately human beings can’t be made to do anything they don’t at some level want to do. Ask any marketer — if it were that easy, everybody would be doing it.

N4D-cover -120pxThis post is excerpted, with minor edits, from Neuromarketing for Dummies, Chapter 4, “Why Neuromarketing Matters.”

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About the Author:

AvatarSteve is a writer, speaker, researcher, and marketing consultant. He is author of Intuitive Marketing (2019), a study of persuasion and influence in marketing theory and practice, and co-author of Neuromarketing for Dummies (2013), a comprehensive overview of neuromarketing science, applications, methodologies, and ethics. He is Managing Partner at Intuitive Consumer Insights, where he focuses on marketing education and consulting.

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