Neuromarketing, why we buy what we buy.


A lot of us are often found in an online-shop.. at least I am 🙂 Often we are just looking around browsing for something we might need. When found in an online-shop, are we aware of all the marketing techniques that are thrown at us? Are you? There is a kind of marketing that affect all of us. It makes use of how our brains works and how it reacts to certain impulses, it’s called neuromarketing. There are several techniques that are being used in marketing that have been proven to work. I will elaborate on a few that are very popular in web-shops nowadays and that you likely have encountered yourself.

Humans in general struggle to think rationally and statistically, we unconsciously fall back into heuristics and biases. The “anchoring effect” is an example that illustrates this; it names our tendency to be influenced by irrelevant numbers. People hate uncertainty, which is the reason we like to look for a certain point we can use as a reference point, a so called anchor. This is shown by the fact that we have difficulties determining the price of an object, we have to compare it to similar objects. The anchoring effect is also prevalent when an item is reduced down. We al have the tendency to compare it to the original price versus the marked down price, even if we do not know if the item has ever been sold for its ‘original price’. When companies introduce a new product for instance they find it very useful to compare it to previous versions.

Another theory that is quite famous and is heavily used as a marketing technique is the so called ‘’prospect theory’’. Most people are loss-averse: they are more likely to act to avert a loss than to achieve a gain. Prospect theory shows that our fear to lose something is twice as high as our ambition to gain something. This means we will put in twice as much effort averting a loss than in gaining a profit. When information in an online-store is rephrased and curved to depict a loss, it induces us to make a decision. For example:

Last offer: only 3 items available. Order now!

The field of neuroscience and understanding how the brain works is still being researched. Because this is such unexplored ground there is a lot of interest. A lot of researches nowadays make use of fMRI, EEG, Facial coding and Eye tracking. The theories developed from this research are also being used in marketing; this is how the field of neuromarketing was born. The purpose of developing the aforementioned marketing techniques is to stimulate the reward centre in combination with the prefrontal cortex to induce customers to make a purchase. Whether we decide to buy or not builds on conscious and unconscious moves that don’t always make sense, at least from a rational point of view.

This being said, whether a purchase makes sense or not does not influence the pleasure we derive from the purchase made. So next time you find yourself in an online-shop know that you are being influenced and that it does not matter. ^^

Kahneman (2011) ‘’Thinking, Fast and Slow’’ Macmillan, Oct 25, 2011
Kahneman, D., Tversky, A. (1979).”Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk”. Econometrica, 47 (2), pp. 263–291.
http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/04/making-choices-how-your-brain-decides/

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One response to “Neuromarketing, why we buy what we buy.”

  1. 332466bb says :

    Interesting topic you raise here! I have found another concept of neuromarketing used offline to create more effective marketing and advertising. This is the concept of ‘priming’, where companies try to influence the behavior of their customers by exposing them to triggers that are designed to stimulate a desirable course of action. Adams (2014) gives an example about ‘how many fast food restaurants are designed to have uncomfortable seats, bright lighting and abundant noise, so that fast food customers are encouraged to consume their meals quickly and vacate their seats for the next customers.’ Supermarkets also apply this concept, for instance by using the smell of freshly baked bread to stimulate more sales of bread and by positioning flowers near the entrance to prime shoppers to think about freshness (Adams 2014).

    You state that online shoppers should know that they are being influenced and that it does not matter. For me, reading about neuromarketing raised some ethical concerns. As you mentioned, neuromarketing and behavioral economics are proving that consumers are not rational. Consumers spend money when they are (subconsciously) triggered to do so. Apparently for decades, marketers have ignored all ethical implications and done anything to sell more. Therefore governments have imposed regulations on misleading and false advertising statements (Adams 2014). Maybe it is time for governments to also impose regulation on applying neuroscience in marketing and advertising. What do you think?

    Adams B 2014, A Crossroads for Marketing – The Ethics of Neuromarketing, State of Digital, viewed 28 September 2014,

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