Neuromarketing: A Guide To The Mind

Neuromarketing. Sometimes neuroscientists join hands with marketers and show willing participants adverts while specialist equipment records brain signals, trying to discover which advert will work the best. When simplified it sounds pretty sinister, which is why brands and companies don’t really like to talk about it, especially in front of the consumer.

Since marketing became digitised in the 2000’s and advertising went online, we have finely tuned KPIs and combined content optimisation, programmatic advertising and ad tech companies from all over trying to crack the mind of the average internet user. Sounds like a bad idea, doesn’t it?

There are two different sides to the neuromarketing story. There’s the side which claims it’s all glitter, no gold and essentially all BS, and then there’s the side where we can appreciate the actual science behind it and apply certain aspects of it to our practice. To really understand and get any benefit from neuromarketing we need to accept that its core underlying principle is consumer psychology.

So today we’re going to block out all the discursive noise and show you how neuromarketing principles can be applied to your practices as a marketer. And, surprisingly, you’re probably already doing it.

Neuromarketing Simplified


Now the basis of neuromarketing seems to be simply appealing to the reptilian brain. What’s the reptilian brain? Well, it’s the part that makes you do all that weird primal stuff, like eating and and attempting to reproduce. It’s much less developed than the ‘middle’ and ‘new’ brain, and it pulls the trigger for most decisions we make. MarketingProf claim the core reason neuromarketing even exists – and we agree – you need to appeal to the reptilian brain.

As such, you’re going to have to learn about how that old lizard mind works:


– It Focuses on Beginnings and Endings – It likes the most interesting stuff, not the middle parts.

– It Needs Concise Input – It can’t really process language all that well. The simpler the language, the better.

– It Relies on Visual Stimuli – The brain is hardwired to make decisions really quickly based on what we see. (Visual sensory input is processed 50 times faster than auditory nerve input, which is probably why cats thought cucumbers were threats back in 2015. We also think sticks are snakes sometimes.)

– It Is Emotional – Head of the Neuroscience Department at UC Irvine is Antonio Damasio and he says “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.”

– It Likes Contrast – Again, it’s a simple part of your brain. The easier it is to differentiate between things the better.

– It Is Self-Centred – It triggers decisions that are most beneficial to yourself and yourself only. Think ‘treat yourself’.


Got it? Good. So now how do we use it in an average business setting to increase conversions? Let’s find out…

How to Use Neuromarketing


Gaining Trust by Trusting Them

Start-Up Hyperabad discuss the idea of showing you trust your customers before they need to show they trust you. What does that even mean? Simple – an example of this is giving them a free month’s trial of your service without asking for their credit card details. Free samples also count. They feel trusted, and start to trust you.

Multi-Sensory Stimulation

You can integrate neuromarketing tactics within an overall brand strategy in order to change perceptions of your company. Creating a sensory mismatch is a tactic commonly used. New Neuromarketing states:


“expectation is the driver of success. The first glimpse of a product will set expectations of the form, the material, the smell. If these expectations do not come true (the expectation does not match your sensory input), you will be surprised by this sensory mismatch. This has an impact on the product experience: when the experience with the product exceeds the expectation, consumers will often evaluate the experience as positive, if the interaction falls short the experience will often be viewed as negative.”


Direct the Viewer

You could put a big ring around the call to action you want the viewer to engage with and say ‘LOOK AT ME’ or you can use more subtle ways. If you were to imagine an advertisement of a woman looking at a pair of shoes, naturally the viewer would also look at the shoes. This is the kind of subtlety that you can incorporate into advertising campaigns of your own. Directing the viewer also applies to your call-to-actions generally. When you implement a call-to-action, you make the effort to make sure it’s visible and appealing so that people will click on it, right? Then you’re already starting to paddle through the neuromarketing pool.

Simple Language, Attractive Colours & Typefaces

We mention the importance of getting your typeface right every now and then. For example in our ‘20 Obvious A/B Tests for Your Website’ we stated that “To keep it simple, Sans Serif typefaces are plain and have consistent widths, whereas Serif typefaces contain accents with various widths and have flourishes. The ‘Georgia’ typeface is proven to be by far the most popular online. Serifs are best for print and San Serif for the web, so try it for yourself and see.” Make it easy for the reader to consume the words.

Complex Fonts

On the other hand Roger Dooley has also speculated on complicated fonts. There’s a chance that having a weird complicated font might make a positive impact. But you should know that no matter what you should never use that complicated font for your contact details, or you know, anything you want people to actually understand.

Smile Like You Mean It

ImpactBND discusses how companies try to personalise their websites with stock imagery, particularly the corporate businesses. If you’re the type of business that needs that stock imagery and you’re wondering how you can optimise on this, then always choose the picture of people smiling over people frowning or looking negative.  A mood boosting image can affect peoples’ willingness to spend. Don’t be a downer.

Colour Psychology

Colour psychology is also very important. We spoke about it in Weekly Roundup #39 where we outlined briefly which emotional response each colour is likely to evoke from the viewer, and how you can use that colour to convey your brand message. Secondly, we mentioned it in our Ultimate Guide to Instagram Marketing, where brands can use certain colours or aesthetics to really drive home their rationale and core values to a consumer. In reference to WishPond’s Instagram account we said, “Most of their pictures contain the colour blue and their brand name and media all revolve around the colour. This not only gives off a great first impression and clear branding, but subconsciously if users like the colour blue they’ll probably follow: even if it’s just for the vibe you give off.”

Avoid Decision Paralysis

Sometimes having a lot of choice is a good thing. Who doesn’t love being able to pick whatever you want from a long list? But then there’s the type of person who is unsure of what they want exactly, sees a massive list of options and they experience what you call ‘decision paralysis’. Columbia University revealed that too much choice might actually be detrimental to your efforts, so consider yourself if less is more.

Loss Aversion

To us, loss aversion seems like a very fancy way of saying FOMO. (Fear Of Missing Out) Loss can be used as a tactic to get people emotionally desiring your product because they don’t want to miss out on it. Neuroscience Marketing explains:

“Expressing the outcome of NOT buying your product or service as a loss will convert more potential customers into buyers. If your product can save a customer $100, don’t express that in terms of saving”. Instead of saying  “Save $100 in energy annually! Buy our furnace gizmo!” They suggest it’s better to say “Don’t lose $100 in energy every year! Buy our furnace gizmo!”

A/B Testing

Now this is probably the strongest way we can emphasise the point we’re making here. We speak about A/B tests for websites to increase conversions a lot, and this is precisely the type of process we think marketers can adopt when thinking of neuromarketing. But what A/B tests fall under the bracket of neuromarketing?


Background images and patterns

Number of columns

Contact form fields

Checkout steps


All of the above are just some of the things you can test when it comes to paying close attention to consumer responses. The way you choose to display so many things on your website has a profound effect on whether or not a person is going to buy from you. You might not have them in an fMRI machine, or hooked up with a bunch of wires, but you DO measure their engagement and should be able to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of your website and marketing materials. This is as far as ‘neuromarketing’ can really go for the average business.

Neuromarketing Case Studies

Companies that offer neuromarketing services tend to use eye tracking, mobile eye tracking, EEG, GSR (Galvanic Skin Response bracelets). Then there’s other methods of neuromarketing research like FACE (Face Emoion Analysis) Implicit Reaction Time Testing, and Visual Attention Analysis.

Here we have decided to gather up a bunch of case studies on Neuromarketing so you don’t have to. Unfortunately it’s quite difficult to get a standard case study, and we didn’t bother to include ‘testimonials’ because we don’t think they count as evidence. Here’s what we found.

Yahoo (2009)

They have this 60 second long ad that features a lot of people dancing and being all happy and whatnot, all around the world. But before they made that advert live they tested it on EEG-cap-wearing consumers. In the end “The brain waves showed stimulation in the limbic system and frontal cortices of their brains, where memory and emotional thought occurs.” Forbes reported. The ad was part of their (then) new $100 million branding campaign that came out in September 2009 to bring more users to the search engine. They used neuromarketing to test if it was going to have the emotional effect that they intended.

Cheetos (2008)

You know that moment when you’ve eaten your own body weight in Cheetos and then you have to get rid of all that cheese dust on your fingers? You can all identify with that neon orange dust that makes Cheetos and the like such a junk food staple.  So they hired NeuroFocus to look into that and they discovered that the borderline off putting coating triggers an unusually powerful response in the brain: “a sense of giddy subversion that consumers enjoy over the messiness of the product. In other words, the sticky stuff is what makes those snacks such a sticky brand.” In the end, Frito-Lay used that information for its advertising campaigns with Cheetos, the stickiest product they had. You can look at the resulting advertisement they made from the research here. This neuromarketing research actually won NeuroFocus an award.

Hyundai (2009)

Hyundai did a study with 15 men and 15 women and asked them to stare at particular parts of a vehicle in order to record certain patterns of the brain that can lead to a purchasing decision. Dean Macko, manager of brand strategy at Hyundai Motor America said “We want to know what consumers think about a car before we start manufacturing thousands of them,” So after showing the subjects certain design elements for an hour they used this ‘feedback’ as we’ll call it to make changes to the vehicle before they put it into mass production. This type of testing before nose diving into an expensive project could be considered useful.

SimpleUsability and Action for Children

Action for Children employed Simple Usability to figure out what the barrier was between a website and a human when it comes to making donations. Of course a charity is completely dependent on this, so Simple Usability used their neuromarketing research services and tested end to end donation giving processes and user experience. They also identified barriers to understanding and motivation for online donations. We would tell you HOW they did this if we could – the case studies page from them doesn’t tell us how they did it, but by the sounds of it, usability testing with some neuromarketing principles in mind. They do have a really good review for whatever they did though:

“The team provided demonstrable in-depth and objective data that revealed exactly how people were navigating around the pages, what drew their eye and what elements they missed. They pointed out what needed work but also the areas the users really liked, giving a broad range of constructive recommendations. SimpleUsability exceeded our expectations and the process has been instrumental in ensuring our new donation testing portal is fit for purpose.”

Coral Stanion-Nazeri, Digital Communications Manager, Action for Children. In another case study for ASDA (who wanted the best possible user experience) , SimplyUsability did the following:

  • Testing on iPhone and Android device
  • Realistic shopping journeys using the Asda mobile website
  • Either starting on mobile site or continuing & completing a shop started on desktop
  • Delivered achievable recommendations, video and screenshots

So, this ‘neuromarketing case study’ is labelled Neuromarketing but what it really means is usability testing.

National Cancer Institute: Ad Efficiency (2012)

Now this one is going to be a really long winded way for you to look at a case study, but here’s the link to it. Here, neuromarketing made use of fMRI machines to compare advertising before being released to the public. There were three different ads for the National Cancer Institute that were viewed by participants. The campaign that elicited the most brain activity was chosen and in turn this ad led to significantly higher levels of calls to their hotline.


John Lewis – Eye Tracking Heat Map (2016)

The iVision heat map was used to find out what consumers were focusing on when they watched John Lewis’s last Christmas advert. It’s a well constructed advert, with the view point always being quite clear and free from distraction, that is until the end. Vision1 say eye tracking heat maps can “precisely measure and record where where people look when interacting with TV advertising and any other visual form of communication. Understanding how people react and interact with your advertising is essential for any advertiser looking to optimise the effectiveness of their advertising.

Neuromarketing is a rabbit hole and in order to find relevant case studies you need to know what neuromarketing is used for. It is currently used for

  • Market Research
  • Product Design and Packaging
  • Store Design
  • Advertising

Neuromarketing Trends in 2018


So how will we see neuromarketing creep into 2018?

Eye Tracking and Pre-Testing

Adage claims that in 2018, eye-tracking will soon become a dominant precursor to test campaigns before going live due to its cheaper costs. With eye tracking you also get the benefits of no weird wired headpieces or machinery as in fMRI or EEG studies. The former head of digital at P&G Nordic said that eye tracking might, “increase our ROI on digital marketing investments in some campaigns up to 25%.” But any marketer worth their salt will know that eye-tracking isn’t too difficult to come across, and if you’re going to invest at all in firms that claim they have those abilities, you’ll want to ask all those probing questions and get a real feel for how much it might actually benefit you. Challenge all technical and strategic approaches.

Personalising Virtual Reality

Another way that neuromarketing will be creeping into 2018 is through personalising virtual reality content based on biometric engagement. TCMO Kristen O’Hara at Time Warner’s said there’s, “an unparalleled opportunity to integrate both the biometrics part of research and also the neuroscience piece to help us understand how consumers are really engaging with the VR experience.”

As you’ll know, more and more brands are experimenting with virtual reality to create immersive brand experiences and neuromarketing is therefore one of the perfect tools to aid these ventures. It could help marketers dynamically change content based on biometric patterns and engagement.

Biometric Engagement

Find Biometrics stated that biometrics can be refined into a subcategory of behavioural identification.


“The way that you interact with connected devices (computers, tablets, smartphones) can be measured and a profile can be derived from the resulting data. New software can then compare the way you usually type, use a mouse or scroll on a page with active inputs to see if malware or a fraudster has hijacked your device.”


This same biometric engagement principle can be applied to areas of marketing and advertising.

Ipsos used this back in 2014 with the claim that they could tell if a person had emotionally or biologically responded to an advert through the use of biometric engagement. The market research company offers a “pop-up” booth which measures responses to advertisements.


“The idea is to use biometrics, or more accurately biorhythmic responses, to measure physiological responses to advertising, which manifests itself through heart rate, skin conductance, respiratory rate and active locomotive responses.”


They believe that if you combine bio-rythmic data with technical measurements, which examine implicit association and facial expressions, and survey research you can draw conclusions to determine the overall effectiveness of an ad. Does it sound a bit familiar to you?

Biometric Authentication

Biometric authentication is different to biometric engagement. Biometric engagement is used to identify something about a scanned individual whereas biometric authentication is used to authenticate a digital transaction. While it might not exactly be used to analyse consumers, we’re mentioning it because it takes fundamental attributes of neuromarketing measurements and uses them as payment confirmation. Just another example of how these ideologies are bleeding into the digital and eCommerce landscape.

In fact, we mentioned this in our 2017 Digital Marketing Trends report, noting,

“Mastercard launched a partnership with BMO in 2016 with the “selfie pay” system that identifies the shopper using biometrics – or – the selfie. It’s mainly just used to verify online purchases, but its potential for cashless transactions are clear to see. According to the Selfie Pay website you can complete a transaction in less 5 seconds with a 95% photo matching technology. It’s available on Android phones and tablets and will be available on iOS soon.”

This has already started rolling out and we expect it’ll get more popular this coming year.


There is no such thing as a “buy button” in a consumer’s brain, and there is no way that you can magically press it using neuromarketing. To suggest that you can bypass conscious thought and tap into the lower parts of the brain in any shopper is entirely misleading. What neuromarketing seems to be based on is the associations of the reptilian brain, and if you can tap into what makes that tick – then you might have yourself a good ad. Might.

Unfortunately a lot of the legitimate scientific findings from neuromarketing research are overshadowed by black-hat marketers looking to make a quick buck on a fad, but here at Spot Studio we recommend getting to know your customers in above-board ways. After all, the perception of neuromarketing is such a grey area it’s barely worth tapping into the science part. And the data so inconsistent that it’s hard to genuinely get a sense of value.

Do your own research, but we can tell you ourselves you’ll find a lot of people who either love it or hate it, and most of the time the people who love it are sales people. The way to truly get to know your customer is first to respect the free will they possess, and secondly to just test test test. They SAY ‘neuroscience’ but what they MEAN is ‘consumer psychology’. That is as deep as any start up or mid level business can go when it comes to neuromarketing – anything else, especially a ‘one size fits all’ solution to understanding your consumer is likely to be a con.

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