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1. What is neuromarketing?
Neuromarketing was first described by by Prof. Ale Smidts in 2002, with the first journal article published in the journal Neuron in 2004.

Neuromarketing (neuroscience + marketing) is the scientific field in marketing that uses neuroscientific equipment to measure people’s brain and bodily responses to marketing messages. It is “the application of neuroscience to marketing”. The techniques used to measure these responses involve scanning, imaging and recording brain/body activity in response to stimuli through various devices that measure brain activity (i.e. brain waves), blood flow/ oxygen consumption, skin conductance and facial expressions.

The field has advanced in recent years to provide more depth by combining various devices that complement each device’s strengths and weaknesses, such as EEG with eye tracking, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with EEG and GSR with eye tracking. For example, research has recently combined EEG with eye tracking in retail shops to correlate eye movement (attention) with brain activity (emotional arousal).

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2. What neuromarketing is NOT
Neuromarketing is not the same as Neurolinguistic programming (NLP). NLP is a school of thought, and does not make use of devices to measure human responses to stimuli. Rather, it is a system of thinking that allows the user to improve their chances of achieving preferred outcomes. Neuromarketing, on the other hand, consists of a number of neuroscience research methods that is used better understanding of human behaviour in a marketing context.
Neuromarketing is not subliminal advertising: Neuromarketing can be used to test the effects of subliminal messages on consumers and how they happen, but do not in itself produce subliminal messages. The famous study by James Vicary where he showed messages to moviegoers such as ‘drink Coke’ and ‘Eat Popcorn’ which he claimed increased sales, could not be reliably replicated. The consensus seems to be that although these messages reach the brain, the effect on behaviour is yet to be determined. Suffice to say that there are many factors at every single moment that influence a consumer’s behaviour. Only through carefully controlled experiments can the significance of these factors be tested.

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3. What devices are used to record brain and body responses to marketing messages?
Electroencephalography (EEG)
EEG monitors electrical activity of the brain over time. This is done through electrodes attached to the surface of the scalp. It is a non-invasive procedure and can be conducted in retail stores or in a laboratory setting. It is therefore very versatile. Various aspects of the brain activity can be measured, such as excitement, frustration, engagement, interest and excitement.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
It is a variation of MRI that tracks changes in blood and oxygen flow to determine areas of relatively high activity. It not only gives a view of brain structure, but also of brain function by showing which areas of the brain are more active than other areas at a particular time. It is a non-invasive procedure that also does not expose participants to harmful radiation. It is a notably expensive research method, but, notwithstanding this fact, the value of the insights that can be gained from an fMRI scan is remarkable.
[RESEARCH STUDY] TV commercial effectiveness has been predicted by an fMRI scanner by exhibiting a very specific ‘neural signature’. By Prof. Victor Lamme and Dr. Steven Scholte from Neurensics. (from Issue nr.4 Jan 2013 NMSBA Newsletter

Galvanic Skin Response (GSR)
This is a device that measures physiological reactions based on changes in skin conductance when a person experiences internal/external stimuli. GSR research is sometimes conducted with other methodologies such as EEG. Considering its usefulness, it is relatively inexpensive.

Facial Coding (FACS)
FACS measures facial expressions of participants to stimuli. Electrodes are placed on specific facial muscles that respond emotionally to product/stimulus presentation. It has in the past proven valuable in distinguishing between sincere and insincere facial expressions.

Eye Tracking
Eye tracking measures consumer’s attention and emotional responses to stimuli such as websites, products and services by tracking eye movements. Research has been conducted on consumers in both a retail and a laboratory setting.

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4. What is the difference between traditional and neuromarketing?

Traditional market research often relied on surveys and interviews, where consumers provide questions to answers to conduct research. Research on ‘choice blindness’ has shown that people’s reasons for their choices are often not their real reasons. Much of what happens in our brains is below our level of awareness. Neuromarketing does not rely on opinions of consumers, but rather recordings of consumer responses to stimuli that do not rely on verbal reasoning for their choices. As Loretta Breuning states in her book Meet Your Happy Chemicals: “A cortex constructs verbal logic for neurochemicals that can’t speak.”

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5. What is EEG and how has it been applied to marketing?
Neurons firing in the brain generate electrical activity. This activity ranges from Electrodes are placed at recognised sites over the scalp. Different sites react in response to different stimuli. By measuring these responses, researchers can reliably measure constructs such as attention, emotion and decision-making.

[RESEARCH STUDY] EEG together with GSR research on the Sony Bravia advertisements has been used successfully to predict ‘approach behaviour’ for their advertisements
[REFERENCE] Ohme, R., Reykowska, D., Wiener, D., & Choromanska, A. (2010). Application of frontal EEG asymmetry to advertising research. Journal of Economic Psychology, 31(5), 785–793. Click here for the link to the article

[RESEARCH STUDY] Another study has found significant results when investigating neural activity when respondents when asked to choose between a variety of crackers. It was even able to determine that the flavours and toppings were more important to them than the shape of the crackers when combined with eye tracking.

[REFERENCE] Khushaba, R., Wise, C., Kodagoda, S., Louviere, J., Kahn, B., & Townsend, C. (2012). Consumer neuroscience: Assessing the brain response to marketing stimuli using electroencephalogram (EEG) and eye tracking. Expert Systems with Applications, (40), 3803-3812. Retrieved September 11, 2014. Click here for the link to the article

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6. What is GSR and how has it been applied to marketing?
GSR measures a person’s internal state by means of a person’s sympathetic nervous system (SNS), (which includes sweating, enlarged pupils and blood vessels and other physiological responses). People do not have voluntary control of the SNS, and is therefore a more ‘objective’ measure of a person’s physiological state that is not biased by verbal interpretation.
As you experiences physiological and emotional arousal, you might sweat more on your fingertips and palms. This changes the electrical conductance of the skin, which is then picked up by the sensors strapped to your fingertips and palms. As of yet, the GSR cannot tell us what specific emotions are experienced – only that emotions are experienced at that moment that are more/less positive or negative. When combined with other methods, more reliable conclusions can be drawn about the experienced emotion(s)

[RESEARCH STUDY] This study measured both the brain activity and the emotional engagement through GSR, EEG and heart rate.

[REFERENCE] Vecchiato, G., Astolfi, L., Fallani, F. D. V., Cincotti, F., Mattia, D., Salinari, S., … & Babiloni, F. (2010). Changes in brain activity during the observation of TV commercials by using EEG, GSR and HR measurements. Brain topography,23(2), 165-179. Click here for the link to the article
[RESEARCH STUDY] In another study, researchers noticed vastly different physiological responses when consumers where exposed to different scenes, even though the difference where not consciously detectable. They used a combination of GSR and EEG methods.

[REFERENCE] Ohme, R & Wiener, D, Choromanska, Anna (2009) Analysis of Neurophysiological Reactions to Advertising Stimuli by Means of EEG and Galvanic Skin Response Measures, : Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics. Vol 2(1), May 2009, 21-31. Click here for the link to the article

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7. What is FACS and how has it been applied to marketing?
Facial Action Coding System (FACS) is a system that standardise facial expressions by looking for common facial movements. It was adopted by Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Friesen in 1978, with a major update in 2002.

Each section of the facial movements makes up what is called an Action Unit. For example, Action Unit 10 is called the ‘Upper Lip Raiser’ by its FACS name. The muscles involved include the levator labii superioris and caput infraorbitalis. Action Unit 14, known as the ‘Dimpler’, includes only the buccinators muscle.
A sincere (involuntary) smile is known as a Duchenne smile, because of the contraction of zygomatic major and inferior part of the orbicularis oculi. You can recognize this by the ‘crow’s feet’ around the eyes.

The FACS manual that includes all standard facial expressions is around 500 pages long. Usage of the coding can be self-taught and takes around 50-100 hours of practice with provided video images.

[RESEARCH STUDY] A recent study showed that the facial expression of sadness is much more correlated with giving to a charity than when the respondents expressed happiness in their facial expressions.
[REFERENCE] Small, D., & Verrochi, N. (2009). The Face of Need: Facial Emotion Expression on Charity Advertisements. Journal Of Marketing Research (JMR), 46(6), 777-787. doi:10.1509/jmkr.46.6.777. Click here for the link to the article.

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8. What is fMRI and how has it been applied to marketing?
MRI is a device that takes advantage of the fact that 65% of the body is composed of water, and more specifically, hydrogen. The huge magnet, which makes up the bulk of the weight and size of the fMRI machine, is about 60 000 times stronger than earth’s gravity and creates a homogeneous magnetic field around the brain. A radio frequency coil picks up the signal from the excited hydrogen atoms in the brain.
As a person is exposed to a stimulus, certain parts of the brain are affected more than others. This means that certain parts require more energy or blood flow (which carry oxygen) to the brain. The relative increase in energy use by this specific part of the brain activity can be analysed by computers to provide a picture of where in the brain activity occurs. The where refers to the spatial resolution and when refers to temporal resolution. Because oxygen-rich blood from the lungs takes time (between 3-6 seconds) to reach the brain, there is a delay between what a consumer experiences and what the brain activity reveals. So there is a trade-off between temporal and spatial resolution. fMRI has excellent spatial resolution, but not temporal resolution.

[RESEARCH STUDY] TV commercial effectiveness has been predicted by an fMRI scanner by exhibiting a very specific ‘neural signature’. By Prof. Victor Lamme and Dr. Steven Scholte from Neurensics. (from Issue nr. 4 Jan 2013 NMSBA Newsletter

[RESEARCH STUDY] A marketing study found different brain areas where active when people looked at appealing and unappealing packaging. Areas that are involved in reward processing was activated when people saw attractive packaging, whereas their brains showed increased activity in the Insula – a region associated with processing aversive stimuli when exposed to unappealing packaging.
[REFERENCE] Stoll, M., Baecke, S., & Kenning, P. (2008). What they see is what they get? An fMRI-study on neural correlates of attractive packaging. Journal Of Consumer Behaviour, 7(4/5), 342-359. doi:10.1002/cb.256.
Click here for the link to the article

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9. Can these devices read my mind?
In the 1985 Benjamin Libet did something remarkable. He had people wear an Electroencephalogram (EEG) – a cap that measured their electrical activity of the brain while flexing their finger repeatedly (read more about EEGs here)(5). He found that the electrical activity changed about 300 milliseconds before the person moved their finger (known as the readiness potential). This means that the experimenter could see when a person was going to move their finger before they themselves can. However, these experiments have only involved simple behaviours over very short time-spans. But as Douglas Gregory once said: ‘we don’t have free will, but we do have free won’t.
An article in Wired magazine summarized what we can and can’t ‘see’ happening in people’s brains. Scientists can interpret mental states to a degree (such as positive, negative, excitement and engagement).
Using machines and algorithms, scientists used fMRI images to infer what a person was looking at. Some of the pictures the subjects saw resembled the computer-generated picture to a large extent. However, the scientists controlled to a large degree what the subjects saw. The computer that did the interpretation was also trained on 300 faces beforehand.
In short, no device can currently know a person’s true thoughts, intentions and reasons for acting. Devices such as eye tracking can only speculate with a degree of certainty why a person’s eyes looked at a certain spot on a screen. fMRI equipment use statistics and changes in blood flow in the brain to make a best ‘guess’ as to where in the brain the main activity occurs in response to a specific stimulus.

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10. What is neuroscience?Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system. It is divided into the central and peripheral nervous system. The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system, whereas the peripheral nervous system consists of all the nerves that carry signals to and from the central nervous system. Many of the tools used in neuromarketing is based on responses or activity by the brain. EEG analyse activity of the cerebral cortex (the outer layer or ‘gray matter’) of the brain. fMRI relies on the relative greater brain activity due to oxygen consumption and blood flow.
The ANS is the nervous system that lies outside the brain and spinal cord. And so, it controls involuntary, automatic functions that we are not often aware of, such as your heartbeat, sweating and digestion. Tools such as GSR and Facial Coding monitor activity as part of the Autonomic Nervous System. Imagine how it would feel if you had control over your heartbeat and adrenal glands while experiencing a frightening situation? Or perhaps had to control how much your pupils constrict or relax to allow more/less light in?

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11.How can neuromarketing improve marketing efforts?
Here are a few ways that neuromarketing can make marketing efforts more productive and more profitable:

  • Website layout (what visitors pay attention to)
  • Engagement (the way consumers perceive the stimuli they look at)
  • Call-to-action (what consumers decide to do)
  • Remember (memory)
  • Improve sales efficiency
  • Advertising Engagement
  • Decision-making
[toggle]12. How can I learn more about neuromarketing?

Coursera: An Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience & Neuromarketing. Click here

An open (free) online course taught by Thomas Zoëga Ramsoy of Copenhagen Business School

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13. Is the neuromarketing industry regulated?
Currently, neuromarketing is an unregulated industry. It is for this reason that NMASA subscribes to the Neuromarketing Science and Business Association’s (NMSBA – based in the Netherlands) Code of Ethics that value integrity, credibility, transparency, consent, privacy, participant rights etc.
We also strive for the following values that underlie science when conducting and interpreting research:

  • Objectivity
  • Scepticism
  • Open-mindedness
  • Peer-reviewed articles