Contradictions in Neuromarketing

Through neuromarketing our subconscious mind can be affected without even realizing it. There are many advantages to this way of marketing. Neuromarketing saves a lot of money, leads to product improvements and gives people a push in the ‘right’ direction. However, neuromarketing is also called ‘evil marketing’ because it is not ethically responsible. It is seen as manipulation and it would direct consumers to make the wrong choices.
I am curious what an expert think of this contradiction and whether someone like Chantal van den Berg can deal with ‘being influenced’. How does she think about the pros and cons? Does she have the same thoughts as the ‘normal’ consumer?


Today I had a conversation with Chantal van den Berg, professional speaker, author and expert on the brain.   While working at small and large companies in various industries, Chantal deepens further into the brain, behavioral psychology, mindset and non-verbal communication. As a result, she developed her expertise in the field of neuromarketing. The knowledge and experience about how to activate the subconscious brain had to be accessible to everyone. Now, although it is difficult in times of Corona, she gives lectures, seminars, master classes and advice on this field.

How would you briefly describe neuromarketing?

“I always say: when you trigger the unconscious part of the brain to let people take action. You could also say, it is just a marketing type. But it is actually much more than that. Originally, it is a research method that allows you to look into the brain to see the activation of a particular part of the brain when you offer something to people. That sounds blurry, so I always say what I said first.”

You have started to look further into the brain and behavioral psychology. Was that as a result of your study or work? And why did this area seem so interesting to you?

“The reason was my work. When I was a student, there was no focus on neuromarketing. That term was actually used very little or not at all. After graduating in 2003, I worked at a large retirement fund. Our goal: get more people to look at their retirement. At that time, I came across an interesting article about people who were put in a scan where researchers could see what was happening in the brain. I thought: I want to discover this. So, I started reading more about it. My advantage was that I did a lot of market research and testing at work. I continued with that and  applied everything I could find in the scientific literature. I really liked it and it also worked, so I started applying it to my colleagues. That's how I rolled into it.”

Can you still walk quietly through the supermarket without realizing how we are all affected? What do you notice while walking along the shelves?

“No. You probably know the products in the refrigerator compartment. These refrigerators are closed with doors, not sliding doors, but doors that you have to pull on. This is done consciously. The natural response of our hands is a grab response. So, if you can make that grab reaction by opening the door, you would be more likely to grab something from that cooler. In the supermarket you are more often unconsciously influenced than you realize. I also fall for it myself. But I recognize the marketing tricks, so I can arm myself a little better against it.”

Which companies do you find interesting in the field of neuromarketing, are there also fashion companies?

“The problem: you cannot always see whether companies are using neuromarketing, they do not want to announce it. One would call it neuromarketing, another will say it is online marketing and the next will say they are working on webdesign.
If you look at fashion you could not only look at the advertising of fashion companies, but also in the design of fashion you could apply neuromarketing. As humans, we have a kind of primal thought about what we think an attractive face looks like. For women this is an oval face.
Designers know that you can adjust your face shape by making a particular collar or wearing a particular accessory. Actually, people always look first at someone’s face. As a fashion brand you want every woman to look attractive in your clothes. So, you have to ensure that your clothes give every woman, with whatever face shape, an oval face. This will give them a positive feeling about the brand which leads to better sales.”

What do you find the most interesting way of influencing people unconsciously?

“For me it’s very simple: use the resources you have with you every day. You could influence someone by sitting on a couch instead of a chair during an interview. But the most interesting thing is influencing people without the need of anything else. For example, you can influence people enormously with your hands, nobody realizes that. You can read everything from someone's posture, and you can discover someone's character from their face. Influencing is perhaps the wrong word, I always say: to help someone make a choice.
Neuromarketing is quite an expensive business. For example, if you look at the research method in which you place people in a scanner, which you can compare with an MRI scan in a hospital, these are very expensive studies. Not every company can afford that, so neuromarketing would in first instance only be reserved for the very large companies. But neuromarketing goes beyond just examining people under a scan, there are many more tools to influence people unconsciously. For example, a "heat map" which shows how people navigate through your website, as a company you can respond to that. There are many more comparable examples of cheaper tools.”

Unhealthy products are made more attractive to children by means of neuromarketing, what do you think of that? Neuromarketing is also called ‘evil marketing’, do you agree with that name?

“This question can be compared to the sale of cigarettes. Cigarette manufacturers will always say: smoking is bad for your health, but we think along. The remarkable thing about this: they can use these messages to keep people smoking. The same goes for the quantity of sugars in children’s sweets, companies will say that the number of sweeteners is carefully monitored. Deep down, the goal remains to sell. So, we are partly influenced by how the manufacturer presents the product, but you are still the one who buys it. You can really stay away from it, but you need to have some "will power". It is difficult, because manufacturers know how to approach you. Not everyone succeeds to arm themselves against this. Because some products cause pleasure in the brain. And then, I think, you have chosen to take that product to bring your own brain into a desired state.”

I am presenting you a proposition: “Neuromarketing does not endanger anyone, the choice still lies with the consumer.” So, do you agree?

“Yes, I absolutely agree. I always say: I can offer you something, but you don't have to take that product, it remains your own choice. And it can be difficult, yes absolutely, even for me it is difficult. I remain sensitive to this way of marketing, just like anyone else. The difference is that I can arm myself a little better against it, because I recognize what manufacturers do with me.”

Where do you think neuromarketing works better, in physical stores or online?

“It works anywhere, anytime, so it doesn't matter whether it is used physical or online. The difference: brands use different tools in physical stores than online. For instance, the fashion store Stradivarius. While walking through the store, you can smell a remarkable fragrance and still smell it at home when you bought some clothes. When you return to the store you recognize the scent and formed a positive feeling, this will make you buy more. But Stradivarius cannot imitate that scent online, but they can describe that scent by images and text. So neuromarketing can be applied both physically and online, but the way it is applied is slightly different. Sometimes it is described in words and the other time you actually smell it.”

Is neuromarketing used differently when you compare the periods before and during Covid-19?

“It can be used differently. People who work in this field, like me, know there is a difference. It is an uncertain time to be alive, there is a threat, but nobody knows which one. The brain is going to create stress, should I take action or not? Some people react very laconically to this, but others are very stressful. This means that if I want to communicate with you, I have to think about the fact that you could be in a more stressed situation now. When people are stressed, they are less likely to buy something. And relaxed people are more likely to buy something. The communication must therefore be different in both cases, but many people, companies and even the government do not know. In fact, the government should communicate differently with all groups. The information has to be told in multiple ways, not just one. In conclusion, there is definitely a difference between before and during Covid-19. Fashion companies also have to use different messages than they used before, because people are in a different kind of mood. What was written, told or shown in the past does not work at this time.”

So, could neuromarketing be a useful tool in times of Covid-19?

“If we had implemented the different ways of communication earlier, it would have been easier, I expect. You, as a young person, need other reasons why you should keep your distance than an older person. But, small tools to influence people in making choices, do work in my opinion. Such as footsteps in the direction of a disinfection pump. In that way, you could say that neuromarketing can help.”

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