NeuroMarketing, Web Analytics & Ethics


Neuromarketing_Coke_vs_PepsiLast Wednesday, Aurélie and I were exhausted from our previous days (since London we haven’t stopped talking, writing and working), so we decided to buy some easy cooking meals at Delhaize (our closest supermarket – 100 meters) and watch some TV to change our minds while relaxing on the sofa.

We then saw a documentary about the future of advertising on the RTBF (Belgian french speaking public TV station). What kind of publicity will we have in the future?
Then a new concept appeared: NeuroMarketing. I was already familiar about NLP, but I never heard of NeuroMarketing.

So what was all this about? Let me give you a little definition of NeuroMarketing before we continue (source: Wikipedia), or if you prefer you can read one of the ost recent scientific articles about this s:

Neuromarketing is a new field of marketing which uses medical technologies such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study the brain’s responses to marketing stimuli. Researchers use the fMRI to measure changes in activity in parts of the brain and to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it.
Marketing analysts will use neuromarketing to better measure a consumer’s preference, as the verbal response given to the question “Do you like this product?” may not always be the true answer. This knowledge will help marketers create products and services designed more effectively and marketing campaigns focused more on the brain’s response.
Neuromarketing will tell the marketer what the consumer reacts to, whether it was the color of the packaging, the sound the box makes when shaken, or the idea that they will have something their co-consumers do not.

With the advancements of technology it is clear that this kind of technology would arise one day. Watching the documentary, it reminded me of the propaganda methods uses by the Nazis during WW2 that we studied at the University. Propaganda was a way of manipulating the masses to a political purpose. Neuromarketing looks very similar to me, it can be very easily be used as a mean to manipulate consumers. Who is going to use it? The biggest corporations that have the means to study this field and experiment… Dangerous, isn’t it? So for me, the bottom line is that all experiments and findings of NeuroMarketing should be made public and available to everyone. Politicians should also look into this and make laws to prohibit going too far (as it has been done with subliminal advertising).

But thinking about NeuroMarketing I started to wonder about Web Analytics. Is there a difference between NM & WA? Where’s the frontier?

Web Analytics is studying what happens and then optimize based on findings. So Web Analytics is not manipulation but interpretation! For sure some rules need to be set, but I don’t think that we face the same kind of dangers for the general public than with NeuroMarketing.

What makes them different?

Choice! You either have choice or you don’t have it. Web Analytics gives you the choice. All websites have (or should have) a privacy policy that you are free to accept or not, but what about NeuroMarketing? Where do you have a choice?

Once again I hope that everything around NeuroMarketing will be published and available. But well, I guess that you’re going to think that we all wish peace in the world, or at least in the Middle East… and we get… well you know… What we have.

Food for thought? What do you think?


12 Responses to “NeuroMarketing, Web Analytics & Ethics”

  1. Xavier Says:

    I have huge ethical concerns about this NeuroMarketing thing. Thankfully, looks like it’s expensive technology so we might not see this come through for a while, right?

  2. René Dechamps Otamendi Says:

    Bosoir Xavier,

    Don’t be so sure. Take a look at 2 examples that I’ve found after a quick search:

    A symposium on Neuromarketing in Australia:

    Already some ‘expensive sales consultants’ are trying to aply NM to sales as this example of ‘Best practices in Neuromarketing’ from the USA found on google video:

    We’re living in a world in which technology is growing too quickly… And it will be more and more difficult to legislate accordingly. Not only legislators need to have access to the information, but most importantly they need to understand the implications…

    Time will tell 😉


    P.S. Even Rob Lowe in West Wing understood that privacy was going to be the issue of he XXIst century

  3. Ilse Says:

    Interesting discussion. I continued the discussion in dutch on

  4. Ilse Says:

    Sorry, the url did’t work:

  5. Xavier Says:

    I am skeptical, probably too cartesian for this. I don’t know if you remember this, but in the French presidential election ’88, Mitterand had been accused of using the media to cast subliminal images. It made the news for a while then no one talked about it. Does it really work? Will this ever be a science that’s worth teaching in Business school? The big thing right now is word of mouth and viral marketing techniques, any thoughts on that from your marketing agency vantage point?

  6. René Dechamps Otamendi Says:


    Well, what they said at the TV documentary is that it won’t be a 100% rocket science as hopefully we are not all driven by the same things (and there are also concerns regarding people with mental disorders). But nevertheless it was pretty scary sometimes. The Pepsi challenge experiment was rather interesting. It said that people didn’t react with the part of the brain that ‘tasted’ but rather with the part that ‘feels’. This was induced because you had already in your head memories, experiences associated with the product or the brand, so insted af saying if you liked or not the product, you brain brought forward the experiences/feelings that it had associated with the brand.
    To simplify imagine that the first time you drank a Pepsi you were in a very positive situation, you will then associate Pepsi to this positive feeling. There’s still room for experimentation in order to bring applications about this, but this means that if in an ad you’re able to refer to the right part of your brain, you can somehow manipulate the viewer and make him like your brand even if the product isn’t that tasty…

    This reminds me of when I started smoking. It was a girlfriend of mine that introduced me to smoking. Years afterwards, whenever I lighted up a Lucky Strike (the brand she used to smoke) it reminded me of her and the feelings I had for her at the moment I lighted up my first cigarette. I don’t know if this is exactly the same principle, but this was my experience. After X years (I can’t recall exactly) this sensation disapeared when lighting up a Lucky Strike, I guess because the sensation wasn’t reinforced afterwards with a similar experience.

    Getting back to your question, I guess that this might have an influence in Advertising Agencies in the future as the aim of AA is to sell brands… But I guess that it’s too early to say…

    It’s been years I’m saying to all my clients that Marketing is becoming a science it’s not anymore a kind of ‘black science’ where marketeers had like their ‘special recepies’ that worked but they couldn’t say why. With all the experiments that are being conducted (and I’m not refering to NeuroMarketing here) we have more and more insights about what works and what dosen’t.
    For example Web Analytics is a great example of this theory. If you understand how your visitors react to your website and you make little changes here and there based on your findings, conduct A/B tests etc… you can improve the return of your website quite easily. This is due to the fact that you understand better what happens and what drives your visitor to do this or that. Isn’t it getting closer to science?

    But in the end, if everybody uses these new findings and technologies, I guess that it won’t bring that much of competitive advantage. It will be more like a prerequisite for any brand or product (if all your competitors are using Web analytics and you don’t, I’m pretty sure that you won’t do as well in business).

    Hope I’m not inducing to have nightmare Xavier 😉


    Thanks for your comment. I’ve seen that there seems to be some interesting discussions about NeuroMarketing in Dutch that you refer in your post. I’ll see if Siegert or Aurélie can translate me a bit (you know that unfortunately my Dutch is really basic as I didn’t had the opportunity to learn a lot of it back in Spain 😉 )


  7. Neuromarketing Says:

    I think neuromarketing fears are overblown – the idea that studying brain scans will let advertisers come up with ads that will turn consumers into mindless drones is plain wrong. We’ve had decades of advertising directed at consumers, and some ads have worked better than others. None, though, have been capable of mass manipulation. At best, neuromarketing techniques may allow modest improvement in some ads and, more importantly, elimination of some really ineffective ads before they are launched. I wrote about this topic in Neuroethics vs. Neuromarketing.

  8. Xavier Says:

    Roger – I read the article, very interesting. My immediate reaction after reading it brings back memories (not quite as fond as Rene’s romantic Lucky Strike episode), which aren’t so good actually: judging job candidates based on how they write (graphology), using psychiatric tests to decide between one candidate or another, etc, for calibrating and predicting how people will do on the job. I don’t think Neuromarketing falls into this category yet, but we need to be vigilant not to put this in the hands of people who “think they know” what they’re doing when really, they don’t. On the bright side on things I do think this is an interesting area, and it makes me want to read more about it.

    Rene, could you please share some details about your first Lucky Strike? J/K. I do agree with you that Marketing isn’t black science anymore — BUT it’s interesting to see a divide forming between traditional marketing (becoming a science), and cutting edge marketing (word of mouth, maybe neuromarketing). It does look as though creativity always beats science, don’t you think? (I am provoking you 😉

  9. Arjan Haring Says:

    Leuke post!

    In nederland hebben wij inmiddels vanuit CHI een Neuromarketing Platform opgericht. Daar trekken we het wel iets breder dan alleen fMRI scans en dergelijke.

    We hebben overigens goede connecties met Chi België, dus het zit er aan te komen dat de neuromarketing events ( ) ook naar België komen.

  10. René Dechamps Otamendi Says:

    Sorry for the delay on my reply, too much work for the moment 😉

    Roger, thanks for your input, I hope that you’re right when you say that fear around NeuroMarketing is overblown. I have read a couple of interesting posts from your blog, I’ll try to read some more in the coming weeks. Thanks for your comment and the information you have published on your blog.

    Xavier, as you well know I’m now married and Aurélie wasn’t the Lucky Strike girl, so I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t enter in more details 😉

    Arjan, thanks for the information about your NeuroMarketing activities and please keep us posted if ou do some seminars here in Belgium.


  11. Xavier Says:


  12. Patrick Renvoise Says:


    Thanks for your article.

    First I do not quite agree with the definition of Neuromarketing of Wikipedia.

    The best definition I have heard is: The Science of Human choice. Limiting neuromarketing to MRI or PetScan readings is too restrictive as it excludes some recent physiological and psychological discoveries on how people make buying decisions.

    As for the debate on the ethics of neuromarketing, I too find that fears are overblown… in fact most of the neuromarketing studies using MRI have poor direct and practical implications: they can’t be used effectively by a sales and marketing executive.
    For example I found the famous Coke study to be very revealing of the inconclusiveness of many of those MRI studies. Although it showed the role of the pre-frontal cortex and amygdala when people were told they drank coke (the brain imprint of the brand Coca-Cola) I wonder what the VP of Sales/Marketing at Pepsi would do with this! The answer is invest a few billion dollars in the Pepsi in hope it would supersede Coke in the brain of the consumer! As reported by Al Ries in “The Evolution of Brands” the tendency of our brain to allocate a new product category to the first company that creates it such as Levi’s for jeans, Coke for cola drinks the mission of the guy at Pepsi might just be mission impossible.

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