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The One Thing 99% of Neuromarketing Studies Forget

Relevant topics Research, Archive

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    The presence of other people while watching an ad has a tremendous impact on how we experience and react to the campaign
  • Application:
    Media planners and neuromarketing researchers can greatly benefit from adapting their work to multiperson viewing conditions
  • What does the typical neuromarketing study look like? Let’s visualize for a moment what typical respondents go through in the hour they visit the neuromarketing lab.

    First and foremost, there’s some brain scanning device involved, such as EEG or an fMRI scanner. Secondly, there are marketing stimuli the respondent has to interact with, oftentimes tv commercials, websites or pictures.

    Next, imagine what the lab looks like. In the case of fMRI, the respondent lies flat in a turbine-shaped machine. EEG is a simpler and more flexible technology, allowing for lab designs simulating a comfortable living-room setting.

    But still, there’s one essential thing missing. One thing that’s present all the time in real life, but completely lacking in almost any neuromarketing study. The answer? Other people.  

    How the mere presence of others completely changes our reaction to advertising

    The presence of other people can completely change how we feel about, process and react to advertising. Rumen Pozharliev and colleagues recently published an exquisite review paper that shows just how strongly the ad viewing experience is affected by the ones who sit right next to us at the couch.

    Traditionally, advertising research was done in tiny unhospitable lab cubicles. Only recently have marketing researchers tried to approach reality by examining the effects that social context has on the physiological processes during advertising viewing.

    The authors looked at a great number of experiments in psychology and neuroscience that explored the difference between shared and isolated ad viewing conditions. Let’s examine the most interesting findings:

    • People watch more ads when viewing a block of commercials with others, while they tend to zap away more often when watching alone
    • Watching a fun ad with other people makes its emotional impact even more pleasurable
    • However, negative or neutral ads oftentimes are experienced more negatively when watched together
    • Multiperson ad viewing decreases ad recall
    • Being in the presence of others increases our motivation to make a good impression and act in socially desirable ways. This increases the persuasiveness of ads that tap into this goal, such as high-status products, charities and products that are consumed at a group level such as dinners and holiday trips

    Especially this last finding shows just how influential social context can be in how we experience the world around us, least of all advertising. From a practitioner’s point of view, this means that campaigns that promote conspicuous brands, charities and shared consumption experiences can boost their impact by simply purchasing media time alongside programs that are generally enjoyed with friends or family.

    Should neuromarketing research look into multiple brains at once?

    Neuromarketing research aims to predict in-market performance of an ad campaign by measuring the neural response of a small sample of test respondents while watching the ad. Generally, these respondents are tested individually in an artificial lab setting.

    However, the authors of the current review argue that neuromarketing researchers and vendors should consider multisubject studies instead of testing individual respondents. While this is not feasible with fMRI, as the respondent is forced to lay down in an enclosed turbine within the fMRI machine, EEG data does allow to be captured in real social environments. Contemporary wireless EEG headsets even enable you to do the fieldwork at the respondent’s own homes.

    While I certainly agree that neuromarketing studies could greatly benefit from the additional realism of multisubject ad viewing, I do want to emphasize that this certainly isn’t a prerequisite for neuromarketing research to offer valuable insights. Both fMRI and EEG have been shown to be very predictive of people’s future purchase decisions, even when their brain activity is captured in highly artificial lab settings.

    Nonetheless, efforts towards more realistic fieldwork will likely further increase neuromarketing’s predictive power. In addition, recent EEG research shows that group-level studies may not only increase the realism of the study setting itself, but also allow the researcher to analyze the data on a multisubject level.

    The data can be used to calculate real-time intersubject synchronization, which indicates to what extend viewers’ brains react in the same way to the ad. This sophisticated metric has been found to be very predictive of in-market performance. In other words: effective ads simply trigger highly similar reactions in different brains.

  • The One Thing 99% of Neuromarketing Studies Forget
  • Reference:

    Pozharliev, R., Verbeke, W. J., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2017). Social consumer neuroscience: Neurophysiological measures of advertising effectiveness in a social context. Journal of Advertising, 46(3), 351-362.


    Further Reading

    • Predicting Consumer Choice with Neuroimaging? It’s Simpler Than You Think!

      Predicting Consumer Choice with Neuroimaging? It’s Simpler Than You Think!

      It’s one of the most intriguing questions in neuromarketing today: how can we predict people’s choices by having a peek into their brain activity?

      Our brains are made up of many clusters of neurons, each devoted to specific – but often yet weakly understood – functions and processes. Scientists and marketers unite in pursuit of so-called ‘buying buttons’. These specific brain areas are particularly responsive towards alluring products, commercials or otherwise money-spinning marketing stimuli. 

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