Science and Art have forever been at two ends of a rope. However, careers and trends have risen combining both, a few examples are Music Therapy, Scientific Illustrator, and Archaeology. Marketing too which leans towards the art side has a strategy based on using neuroscience to improve marketing strategies. Neuromarketing could be the next big thing in the field. But how does it work? Paul Writer interviewed Prathibha Ryali, Product Marketing Leader of The Weather Company, an IBM Business to understand the potential of Neuromarketing.

1. What are the common misinterpretations when it comes to neuromarketing?

“We are not thinking machines that feel. We are feeling machines that think. Without our emotions, we are unable to reason.”- said Antonio Damasio on the famous “Descartes’ Error”. What I really like in this statement is the placement of ‘feel’ vs ‘think’. Our ability to think is wrapped in ‘feeling’. And so the outcome of our reasoning is often a mush of experiences driven by all that comprises that feeling- emotions, memories and physical experience. Understanding how the mind arrives at this reasoning is critical in order to appeal to the consumer, but it is not easy.

Neuromarketing is one of the techniques that attempt to understand the ‘feeling’ part that often the consumer does not know of or express aloud but indicates through involuntary eye movement, brain wave signals and biometric responses.

Insights thus drawn are often confused with results of other techniques which try to track unobvious customer behavior patterns such as analytics & data-driven insights; or with audience segmentation and psychographic personas just because they try to profile consumers based on intrinsic goals, motivation and preferences.

Unless a persona is built or measured using neuro-monitoring techniques, or on customer’s subliminally monitored inputs- it is NOT neuromarketing.

Outcomes of many marketing approaches may look similar but the techniques grossly vary depending on which part of the head or biometric inputs you are looking into; what you are looking for and whom you are asking.

Is Neuromarketing still evolving? Yes, but it has come a long way and been successfully implemented by many brands. Is it all about brain scans? Not at all, many other accessible inputs exist such as biometrics, eye tracking etc. Is it exclusive of traditional marketing? No, it is very much in tandem.

2. How have brands used neuromarketing effectively?

Neuromarketing- the term is new but practices have been long evolving across the marketing cycle involving research, campaign messaging, product design and post-decision engagement to monitor regret or happiness levels.

One of my favorite examples is from Dan Ariely’s experiment on Economic Times digital subscription options, where two options priced alike wreaked havoc with the rationality of decision making.


VP Marketing Google, Lorraine Powel says, “If we don’t make you cry, we fail.” Not surprisingly, Google film on reuniting friends across Indo-Pak borders triggers strong subliminal emotions; Google also worked with Neurofocus to measure overlay and engagement for YouTube Ads; the finest yet is that they list “solving” pain as a content evaluation parameter for search rankings. The Coke-Pepsi[i] experiment indicating memory references to Coke versus taste preferences to Pepsi; Volkswagen, Frito Lays, Fox and Paramount have used Neuromarketing in various capacities for performance predictions.[ii]

3. What are the new trends in neuromarketing and how much does technology aid it?

Technology aids are critical for non-intrusive attempts to understand what-the brain-doesn’t-want-to-say-upfront. The synergy with A.I and neural architecture is enhancing the ability to read/monitor subliminal responses in advanced spatial resolutions through more data and deep learning. More the merrier for marketing insights- greater availability, lesser cost, better samples and greater feasibility to build marketing models.

Initially, data gathering relied heavily on clinical equipment such as EEG and fMRI, but now online tools for facial recognition and eye tracking can whet marketing campaigns as easily as UX testing.

Brands such as Eyefluence[1] acquired by Google enables vehicles to dynamically alter, in real-time, a specific car’s design features. This can be extended to include neuro customer inputs such as blinking, eye movement, heart rates and the heat index as real-time reactions to the brand features as stimuli.

Eye tracking can add real-time personalization to VR experiences as well; sometimes a single blink for 200 milliseconds can determine a purchase[2].

There is an increasing trend to integrate Neuro with traditional- the no. of people looking for Neuromarketing in Google Scholar versus the no. of articles found has tripled since 2011.

4. What are the cons of neuromarketing? 

That, it could be an irrepressible phenomenon rendering us into hypnotized robots under autocratic corporate or governmental control. Well, maybe not that bad but definitely some strong concerns on regulation, standards, data access and privacy with and in spite of informed consent. Customers may agree to be tested but might not understand the tests or realize the extent of data exposure and context of usage; Unintended information reveals outside scope of research (possible flip side of inexpensive but less tested technologies) and the ability of brands to exploit demand tactics such as beverage pricing aligned to thirst indices.

For example: A famous retailer sent baby promotional materials to a possibly pregnant customer identified by buying pattern-based analytics; instead, they heard from a surprised father unaware of his teenaged daughter’s pregnancy. Not all data is amenable for corporate consumption.

Neuroimaging can also reveal addictive personalities based on gambling response to risk loss aversion.

Figure 1-Google searches reveal people willing to sell a kidney for an iPhone. Shockingly subliminal indeed!
Figure 1-Google searches reveal people willing to sell a kidney for an iPhone. Shockingly subliminal indeed!

The greatest risk though is premature marketing interpretations based on academic observations.

For example: a researcher compared iPhone users’ dopamine levels to those of addicts[3].

Some experts considered this an overgeneralization of the brain region called striatum responsible for many emotions and thus quoting a single effect could be inconclusive or out of context[4][5].

5. Traditional marketing focuses on ensuring the consumers make the decision to buy the product/service while neuromarketing relies on influencing their subconscious into possibly buying the product/ service. By that definition, would traditional marketing be more effective?

Well, I would go back on how we started with the Feeling and Thinking mind. The subconscious mind is processing a truckload of background data impacting the conscious thinking mind. It is fascinating how much we “think” we know versus what our mind thinks. Find more thoughts here on how our subliminal mind can depict bias which we ourselves don’t think we believe in.

In addition to unconscious biases, the customers are also subject to framing and context from the feeling mind which influences their purchase preferences varyingly on differing occasions.

And so, both/all parts of the mind, we cannot get a complete picture of what is going on in his/her head.

An effective approach would leverage both techniques as implemented by TESCO[iii] driving persuasion models along with Dunhumby. Traditional inputs drive analytics, targeting emails and LCD screen embedded shopping carts feeding into machine learning. Neuro inputs strive to create a positive brand association and overall experience driving purchases. Sometimes, Neuro can be more effective than traditional campaigns that need subliminal messaging like for anti-smoking.

Neuromarketing is not a panacea to solve the marketers’ problems creating hypnotizing products that simply tap into the “buy” button. But it is definitely an enhancement to traditional methods.

What Next?

Future forwarding would bring very interesting scenarios to this “science” driven “art”. Most literature in this data-driven and now neuroscience assisted world focuses on the technology aspect without much credence on the social scenario. For example- most concerns on Facebook center around the sheer volume, accessibility, privacy, data and analytics perspective BUT social networks in a connected economy is social science problem. How people behave when influenced in a public forum, in a face-to-face forum, in a closed group or in an ever-connected world with no private secret/opinions or voices is a very different behavioral situation which no one is YET talking about. While subliminal insights are fantastic they need to be validated through an ecosystem of situations and a probable reaction could then be estimated. It is a long journey yet from the subconscious mind of the customer to the wallet of the customer and a Neuro approach alone will not help us traverse that path- something more to think about for all of us.


Prathibha Ryali, Product Marketing Leader of The Weather Company, an IBM Business
Prathibha Ryali, Product Marketing Leader of The Weather Company, an IBM Business

Noise talks AT you, stories talk TO you and experiences WALK the mile with you. Hello, I am Pratibha Ryali and I would like to talk TO you.

12 years of product marketing and content practices from 1 room to Fortune 20 organizations and the opportunity to learn and witness from the far and few structured authorities like Content leadership graduation (of 0.5% of Global IBM Marketers), I can never stop undervaluing the critical weight of addressing the “right” side of the human mind- pun intended. My mantra to achieve this is to really communicate value like you would to a five-year-old. It works with my clients, their clients, students, audiences, fellow enthusiasts and almost anyone looking to solve problems in a simple way. This helps me work in a 2-women army tasked to grow one of the most expensive acquisitions in IBM history. It also helped me outperform difficult-to-market products in small teams with little money and resources. It helped me travel across 10+ countries, learn from people in their language, unlearn from people in my language, broaden my mind and cut through barriers to tell even better stories. I would love to hear your stories too. Do drop me a note at [email protected] or reach me on Linkedin and @Prathibharyali on twitter.

[1] //

[2] “‘Neuromarketing’: can science predict what we’ll buy?”  in Telegraph by Alex Hannaford  //

[3] //

[4] //

[5] //

[i] paper Neuromarketing: Who Decides What You Buy?by Vicky Phan in USCD published by Triple Helix


[ii] [ii] “‘Neuromarketing’: can science predict what we’ll buy?”  in Telegraph by Alex Hannaford  //

[iii] The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 42, No. 3, 2008 //


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