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Neuromarketing: Understanding the “Why” of “What” We Buy

August 3rd, 2013

By Greg SpindlerNeuromarketing Frozen Fire Digital Business Development

You know what products and/or services your customers buy, but do you know why they buy them? What makes a consumer choose one product over another? Is it possible to understand the reasons behind a customer’s purchase decision?

Yes. That’s where neuromarketing comes in. Neuromarketing is a field of market research that uses medical technology such as electroencephalography (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brain’s response to marketing stimuli.

In the 1950s, scientists at McGill University discovered an area of the brain appropriately named “the pleasure center.” Researchers looking at the brains of lab rats discovered that when given the opportunity to stimulate their own pleasure center using a lever-activated electrical current, they would do it over and over and over again.

Humans respond in much the same way. How often do you make decisions based on what feels good or what is pleasurable? When it comes to making purchasing decisions, we are largely motivated by our own “pleasure center.”

Neuromarketing uses brain-tracking tools to help determine why we prefer certain products in lieu of others.

According to Uma R. Karmarker, assistant professor at Harvard Business School with PhDs in both marketing and neuroscience, people can often express what they like and how much they are willing to pay for it but are less able to describe why a particular item is more valuable to them than another item. People “aren’t very good at accessing where that value comes from, or how and when it is influenced by factors such as store displays or brands,” said Karmarker.

The science of neuromarketing allows businesses and corporations to test and understand the motivation behind a purchase decision, hopefully leading to more sales.

In 2008, Frito-Lay hired a neuromarketing firm to study how consumers respond to Cheetos. What they found was that consumers enjoy the messiness of Cheetos and the fact that you can’t eat Cheetos without your fingers turning orange with cheese. Frito-Lay took the newly learned information and in 2009 produced an ad campaign called “The Orange Underground,” which won a 2009 Grand Ogilvy Award from the Advertising Research Foundation. View The Orange Underground below.


Neuromarketing is able to scientifically test consumers’ responses to products, packaging, advertising, and marketing and in many cases, the results of the research is more telling than self-reporting surveys and focus groups.

The goal of marketing is to create brain activity that encourages a desired behavior, like buying a specific product. With neuromarketing, companies are able to fine-tune their target message to create the desired response.

What are your thoughts on neuromarketing? Have you ever used it for market research? Would you? Why or why not?

Frozen Fire is a digital business development and communication strategy firm that exists so that businesses have the tools necessary to know exactly who their customers are and what their customers are looking for; we help companies connect with their customers via digital marketing strategies; and we help them to drive their sales, business development and marketing efforts, so as to gain the maximum return on their investments in terms of marketing dollars, efforts, and human resources. Contact us to learn how we can help your business know, connect, drive.

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