When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.


Neuromarketing: Pushing The Limits Of The Powers Of Persuasion

Neuromarketing: Pushing The Limits Of The Powers Of Persuasion
Claudio Reyes R.

Not many years ago, the concept of “neuromarketing” was presented as a revolutionary discipline. Introduced as the newest buzz word along such topics as neuroscience, emotions, sensory, unconscious, subliminal, neuromarketing was presented as the key to understanding consumer behavior. Those most passionate about the subject promised companies that it could even help them read their client’s minds.

As the concept continues to evolve, enthusiasm around neuromarketing has turned into an interesting debate regarding its reach, ethics and reliability. Now some even say it's time to give the practice its rightful place in the scientific community.

But first, what is neuromarketing? Roberto Álvarez, a researcher from the IE Business School, defines it as “the fusion of knowledge of neuroscience, economics and marketing.” In other words, it is the applied studies and technologies withiin the field of neurology -- such as functional magnetic resonance, electroencephalography and transcraneal magnetic resonance -- to determine the brain’s reactions to certain stimuli or tasks.

“From the marketing point of view, we are interested in establishing a link between the emotional reactions in the brain to stimuli or tasks," says Álvarez. "Some 95% of the decisions we take are basically emotional. Only the remaining 5% represent a rational process that takes place outside the emotional decision, often to justify it.”

Getting to know these cerebral reactions gives companies the opportunity to construct predictive behavior models for consumers, and with it allegiance to both specific products and brands. The potential economic payoff is vast.

The latest advancement in the field strives to adjust and improve the stimuli to which groups of people will be exposed, until they find the “perfect brain reaction and response to both the adequate and the ideal,” explains Álvarez. The five senses are targeted, adjusting smell, colors, sounds, textures and temperatures.

The director for the Neuroeconomics Centre in the Diego Portales University in Chile, René San Martín, notes that neuromarketing today appears more as an “entrepreneurial effort than as a scientific or academic one. It is very hard to find an academic department in a University that dedicates to neuromarketing.”

Powers of persuasion

Neuromarketing has defenders and detractors. Some have categorized it as a pseudoscience. Critics say it lacks scientific studies that validate or revise findings. Indeed, most attention to the discipline comes from the private sector, and not academia. The companies will use their findings to eventually implement them in commercial strategies. And, obviously, companies compete and don’t want the neighbor to find out. “Part of the status of science of our time has to do with passing through a process of revision. Neuromarketing doesn’t offer that,” confirms San Martín.

Álvarez counters that the discipline is in the beginning stages, and “have a very solid scientific base whose results are extraordinarily positive.” He adds that much of the negative criticism around it is due to prejudice because of lack of knowledge and reactions to fear of change.

The ethical side of neuromarketing is also up for debate. Is it ethical, for example, for a store to use stimuli in order to induce them to purchase something that otherwise they wouldn’t buy?

Miguel Muñoz, CEO of Conecta Research & Consulting, who has a PhD from the University of Edinburg warns that the ethical component arises the moment we accept to utilize knowledge of perception and decision-making in human beings.

San Martín says persuasion was not invented by neuromarketing, and historically has also been used in political campaigns in modern democracies. He does, however, acknowledge that it is hard to know how powerful such techniques could become as neuromarketing research advances.

“There must be the proper use of knowledge," he says. "It is the people’s responsibility to know about the tools that are used to persuade us."

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest