Neuromarketing: Persuading the Subconscious

Surveys, Focus Groups, Etc. All used to collect insights into what the public want or need. But people lie. How do we tackle this? Enter Neuromarketing




Surveys, Focus Groups, Exit Polls… The list goes on, all these various methods that are used to collect insights into what the public want or need. In fairness they do serve a point, but there is one fundamental flaw, people lie, people tell half-truths and people tell what they think is the truthandwhat they think people would like to hear. If these focus groups and exit polls were to be believed we would have no Trump and no Brexit. But we do, so if people are going to mislead how is it possible to go beyond Focus Groups? Enter Neuromarketing.

Brands are now increasingly leaning towards Neuromarketing as a way of targeting the subconscious mind rather than asking consumers outright and being mislead.

In this week’s piece we take a look at the Science of Persuasion for brands and the tools that we can employ to Persuade the subconscious.

Persuasion Science?

In an ideal world, people consider all the available information in order to make an informed and decision. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Dr. Robert Cialdini has categorised the 6 main factors that influence our decision making process:

  1. Reciprocity: “Simply put, people are obliged to give back to others the form of a behaviour, gift, or service that they have received first” The last time you visited a restaurant, there’s a good chance that the waiter or waitress will have given you a gift. Probably about the same time that they bring your bill. A liqueur, perhaps, or a fortune cookie, or perhaps a simple mint. Does this impact the tip you give? You better believe it does! Study’s have shown providing a single mint at the end of their meal typically increased tips by around 3%. Interestingly, if the gift is doubled and two mints are provided, tips don’t double. They quadruple—a 14% increase in tips. So always be the first mover in providing value back to your customer and you will ultimately reap the rewards. This is particularly prevalent in Content Marketing, where brands are “distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience”
  2. Scarcity: Simply put, people want more of those things they can have less of: “When British Airways announced in 2003 that they would no longer be operating the twice daily London—New York Concorde flight because it had become uneconomical to run, sales the very next day took off” Nothing changed, it simply became scarce and as a result people wanted it more. The science is clear. It’s not enough simply to tell people about the benefits they’ll gain if they choose your products and services, you need to create an urgency and a want within your consumer base. Create an exclusivity to your product / service by outlining what the consumer stands to lose by not purchasing.
  3. Authority: This is the principle whereby people will subconsciously defer to the knowledge of a credible source. It’s pretty simple really, who is more likely to convince the public that their new Electric Vehicle is better for the environment? Elon Musk, owner of Tesla or a Subject Matter Expert from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) It is critical to signal to others what makes you an authority on the topic of conversation before you try to persuade or sell. But do this subtly & within reason, like a doctor with his certificates hung on his wall, as to parade around telling all your sales leads how amazing you are will be counter-productive. But this is where the power of a referral comes in, it is hugely impactful to have another source validate your knowledge on a particular field, tests have shown that it doesn’t really matter who performs the referral or even if they stand to gain.
  4. Consistency: People like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done. The key to persuasion via Consistency is activated by looking for, and asking for, small initial commitments that can be made. For example, a study showed that there was a reduction of 18% in missed appointments at health centres simply by asking the patients rather than the staff to write down appointment details on the future appointment card. Aim to create a process where there is an initial commitment (e.g. a sign-up) followed by a minor action (e.g. complete a form describing your issue / problem & a date for a follow-up call) before the ultimate sale. This will build a momentum of consistency and will ultimately lead to a successful persuasion.
  5. Liking: People prefer to say yes to those that they like. Sounds simple right? But why does one person like another? Through the Persuasion science lens there are three important factors, 1) We like people who are similar to us 2) We like people who pay us compliments 3) We like people who cooperate with us towards mutual goals. It is important to look for genuine similarities, and provide genuine compliments before ultimately working towards your mutually beneficial goal.
  6. Consensus: Especially when they are uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviours of others to determine their own. In order to influence decisions, you can subtly provide nudges to your audience by indicating that a high-portion of similar individuals have partaken in a particular activity. It is possible to take a positive approach to encourage conformity or a negative approach to shock people into action. It could be as simple as signage in a local park indicating that “90% of people now dispose of their chewing gum in the desired bins, thank you for your help”. You probably think this sign has no impact but subconsciously you are registering this information in an effective way.

Understanding these shortcuts and employing them in an ethical manner can significantly increase the chances that someone will be persuaded by your request.

What is Neuromarketing?

“Neuromarketing is the formal study of the brain’s responses to advertising and branding, and the adjustment of those messages based on feedback to elicit even better responses”

To summarise, what neuromarketing highlights is used to identify the different trigger points that activate a response in your brain without you even knowing, it then identifies a behaviour that correlates with that reaction (e.g. the release of a “feel good” hormone) which makes a consumer more likely to purchase. Now more than ever, in a world where the competition for attention is so great, brands are turning to neuromarketing in order to appeal to the subconscious as a method of persuasion.

Take this Dove advert for example, at face value it may not seem like there’s a whole lot going on but consider this:

  • Logo Choice: The Dove, a global symbol for purity & sanctity.
  • Colour Scheme: All white, subliminally hinting towards cleanliness
  • Creative: The iconic splash, evokes feelings of smoothness & moisture

Rather than covering the ad with text explaining the above three points, the simplicity of the ad and the visual allows the consumer to subconsciously create these associations in their own mind which triggers a propensity to purchase.

Now I don’t know about you guys but when I am in the market for soap I sure do want to know that it’s pure, clean & will leave my hands feeling nice & smooth.

How Do They Do It?

As you can imagine there’s a deep science & analytics involved in pulling all this together, we won’t dive too deep into the technicalities but to give you a sense of the different types of analysis we’ve put together a small table below to summarise.


The important thing to understand is that this is not a precise science, and that the associations identified within each method are merely pointers & guides based off profiles that are generated.

Each method is not without flaw and each method is teased out very well in this article by BitBrain.

Types of Subconscious Association

So, now that we understand the different types of Persuasion that brands can employ and having explored the approaches and motivations behind targeting our subconscious interactions with their advertisements and branding, we will now look at some of the Associations & Biases that our minds create and see how they can be used to ultimately persuade us into purchasing.

Neuromarketing Biases
  • Primacy & Recency: When presented with a large amount of content we are genetically inclined to remember the first & last item. For this reason you will see a huge amount brands closing adverts with an image of their product or brand name. Or during speeches Politicians will often open their speech mentioning the key point and close their speech with the very same topic.
  • Colour: If you thought that brands chose their colour schemes at random, then you’re highly mistaken. It has been proven that all colours subconsciously trigger a different meaning within your mind. Different colours are associated to different emotions so it is important to ensure that you use the correct colour scheme to achieve your desired goal. Research indicates that consumers weight colour above smell & texture when considering products. For our female readers considering whether to go with the blue or the red dress, studies have proven to go with the red option. As humans, we are hard-wired to prefer red and associate it with attraction amongst many other associations, for more information, click here.
  • Directing Attention: Triggers within the ad imagery can be used to direct attention to an intended location. For example if you have your character in the image looking or pointing at a particular item, then subconsciously all viewers will be driven predominantly to that point. (See More)
  • Sensory Stimulus: In physical settings it is possible to create a trigger subconsciously based off of the sound or smell experienced in the area. One example of this is that research has shown males statistically stand a 20% better chance of successfully getting a female’s phone number when there are flowers in the visual or smelling distance. The concept is also applicable for audio & smell where certain sounds or smells will increase a person’s likelihood to follow a desired action, like completing a purchase.
  • Fonts: When trying to convince a viewer / reader to take a clear and definitive action or task you should always describe the task in simple and easy to read font of a suitable size. This will create a perception of minimal effort required to complete the task resulting in higher completion rates. When selling a costly or premium product, using a hard to read font will imply that more effort and skill is needed to prepare the dish, this particular approach can often be seen in menu segments.
  • Anchoring Bias: Anchors hold. For the customer, the anchor is the point of reference against which all other products are compared. For example, an original price. People have a tendency to bias their decisions heavily based on the first piece of information they’re given, and for a product or service, this first piece of information is the anchor by which all other products are judged. Anchoring is hugely powerful in creating the impression of the buyer receiving a deal of some kind.
  • Design Principles: There are certain design principles when creating your advertisement or branding that increase the likelihood of a consumer engaging with an ad or ultimately purchasing. One example of this is soft edges. “In the same way our ancestors stood clear of sticks or jagged stones fashioned into weapons, we avoid sharp angles, viewing them as potential threats. NeuroFocus has performed several studies for retailers and food manufacturers and found that test subjects prefer in-store displays with rounded edges over those with sharper edges. In one instance, when these new rounded displays were rolled out to replace traditional store shelving, sales rose 15%.”
  • Common Lifetime Experiences: Brands are increasingly appealing to common life experiences that resonate across their consumer-base. In order to create affinity with their brand they may appeal to a consumer’s maternal or paternal experiences. For other consumers they may appeal to their love of animals to create these associations that create a stronger attachment to your brand.
  • Political / Reputation Bias: As humans, we create unconscious biases that shaped by the information that we are fed. Which is why currently, if someone asks you what you think of when I say America, your response will probably be “Trump”. This means that we create both positive and negative associations that influence our decisions when making a purchase, meaning that every pixel of your advertisement can be used to generate these positive associations and if not used correctly they can create negative associations to your brand or advertisement.
  • Mere Exposure, Word Frequency & Word Imagery: In our blog on the successful presidential campaign of Donald Trump we discussed the power of using wording that is simple, concrete and easy to understand, the power of this is that due to the simplicity of the message it is more readily accepted as true.

The above are some typical examples of the associations & methods used within neuromarketing to successfully influence decisions and ultimately persuade a consumer to purchase. There is a vast array of more diverse approaches to neuromarketing that can be found just a Google Search away.

How Can We Tie All This Together?

The concept of Persuasion Science and Nuromarketing can be leveraged to created a framework for your own creative process. With the right amount of investigation it is possible to uncover the results of previous tests to help optimise your own advertisement or branding.

The framework below should serve as a guide for reviewing your advertisement where applicable.

  1. Define Persuasion Approach: Identify what angle of persuasion that you plan to use to appeal to your audience.
  2. Define Creative: Create a few versions or drafts of your creative (Advertisment or Branding) that will be then analysed through the lens of Neuromarketing.
  3. Neuromarketing Analysis (If Applicable): Decide which approach of Neuromarketing Analysis that is most suited to the creative that you have drawn up. This is only applicable for large scale budget projects. Where smaller budgets apply, you can skip this step and draw on the insights gathered from previous tests online.
  4. Identify & Optimise Associations: Based on the data produced from the Neuromarketing Tests (Tests Performed / Test Results Sourced online), you will review the draft creatives that have been designed in step 2 through the lens of trying to appeal to the correct associations that align with your Persuasion Approach & ultimate objective.
  5. Outcome: Due to the impact of the optimised advertisement campaign your target audience will ultimately take the originally intended action which may be a purhcase, a sign-up, an enquiry etc.

Examples of Neuromarketing:

To summarise we have included below some of the most successful and high-profile examples of Neuromarketing & Persuasion Theory in action:

  • Frito-Lay: During the product launch process Frito-Lay discovered via Neuromarketing that shiny bags with pictures of chips triggered negative responses compared to bags with a matte design. In conjunction with in-depth interviews, these findings eventually resulted in changes regarding to colour, typing, imaging used. Which ultimately spelled the demise of shiny Frito-Lay bags in store.
  • Cheetos: In an interesting project Frito-Lay also performed a test using both focus groups and Neuromarketing testing, and the results were fascinating and a proof of concept. The advertisement for Cheetos featured a woman performing a prank on another person by putting orange snacks in a dryer full of white clothes. During the focus group participants indicated that they disliked the prank and commercial, however during the EEG performed the participants displayed positive brain activity showing that despite enjoying the advertisement they did not want to vocalise during a focus group as they would appear to be mean-spirited in front of others.
  • Hyundai: Hyundai and their prototype tests is another famous case regarding the use of neuromarketing in design. Hyundai used EEG technique to evaluate a particular design. While letting consumers examine car prototypes, Hyundai used the EEG to understand preferences and what kind of stimulation that can lead to purchase decision. Based on the findings of the study Hyundai tweaked the exterior design.
  • Pay Pal: Ebay’s PayPal used neuromarketing to get more e-shoppers to use its online payment service. PayPal discovered that commercials focusing on USPs such as speed and convenience triggered a significantly higher response in the brain compared to promoting functions such as safety and security. Pay pal used these insights when creating their new advertising for the online payment service.

The above represent just a few examples of Neuromarketing in action, it is a fascinating industry that is growing at a rapid rate. If you would like to hear more or discuss any of the above, don’t hesitate to reach out.