Neuromarketing: Should The Brain Be For Sale?

Fernanda López
Fernanda’s Knowledge Vault
4 min readMar 19, 2021


Decoding the brain – a company’s dream or a customer’s nightmare.

Human Brain In Glass Jar With Sale Label is a photograph by Ktsdesign/science Photo Library which was uploaded on September 21st, 2018.

There’s no way around it. The old way of doing marketing sucks.

I’m talking about mass marketing, an inability to track and decode customer perceptions, as well as not being able to test single variables of marketing effectiveness.

Things needed to change for marketers.

And for the sake of simplifying research history, I’ll tell you a story.

A bunch of researchers were so tired of not hitting their KPIs, getting yelled at by their boss, not having a clear direction of how to lead their team, and just not knowing where to focus their energy.

If a Marketer launched the commercial, they had no idea what to do next.

100k audience? Great!

Did it work? Not sure.

Will it drive higher revenue? I don’t know.

What are the email addresses of the viewers?….

Should we do it again? Who cares? Absolutely!

That’s a lot of how marketing dialogue went like back in the day.

So these researchers started asking each other: what if we could possibly track the behavioral affect of our potential users? What if we could invent technology that will allow us to explore the human subconscious and understand what causes a positive emotional response of people?

A Marketing professor, Gerald Zaltman, raised his hand and said ‘I know what to do’. And so, he went ahead and patented the Zaltman metaphor elicitation technique in the 1990s to sell advertising.

From 2002 and on, this field continued to grow and gain interest from marketers and researchers all over the world.

So what is neuromarketing?

Nobel Laureate Francis Crick offered a brilliant hypothesis that told us that “the idea that all human feelings, thoughts, and actions–even consciousness itself–are just the products of neural activity in the brain.”

Neuromarketing is the neurobiological promise to reduce the uncertainty of what a customer will like, or not like. This field studies our brain to predict what affect and stimuli will have the strongest physiological reaction, and which type of reaction as well.

Whether you like it or not, if you are a marketer, psychologist, or customer, you need to learn about it.

This field has a perceived CAGR of 15.6% from 2018–2026. Its fastest-growing market is the Asia Pacific, while the current largest market is North America.

The way in which companies such as PepsiCo, The Weather Channel, eBay, and Diamler have used neuromarketing is through the implementation of innovative research techniques to conduct market research, focus groups, and the design of marketing campaigns and advertising.

Some examples of neurotechnology used by these companies are eye-tracking technology to recognize where the customer vision goes when looking at an image, EEG (electroencephalogram) tests to detect electrical activity in your brain, and facial coding to discover the exposure of different emotions.

Kind of crazy, right?

In 2018, GreenBook directory published an analysis of the emerging research approaches for global companies. Eye-tracking ranked in the top 4 with 38% of companies using it, and 19% have it under consideration. Facial analysis ranked in 6th place with 24% usage and 22% under consideration. And biometric response ranked 8th with 16% in-use and 18% under consideration.

Should the brain be for sale?

When I began my college journey as a Marketing concentration with a minor in Behavioral Neuroscience, I had every intention of getting into this field during my co-ops and graduations.

However, it was important for me to evaluate and analyze my own ethical stand on the matter.

While Neuromarketing brings us, marketers, incredible benefits such as more accurate consumer insights, biometric-based responses to visual and written stimuli, and a higher possibility of click-through rate, when is it too much?

At the end of the day, as marketers, we are responsible for bringing our own opinion and ethical bias into the matter to some degree. It’s impossible to have completely unbiased decisions, and in my opinion, we shouldn’t either.

Not having a bias, while letting unpurposeful data accumulate in our databases, is forcing our companies’ preferred actions onto our society. Are we changing the course of what ‘freedom of choice’ looks like for the average consumer?

One of the biggest ethical implications of the misuse of neurotechnology can be validated by society’s backlash on the matter. If you google ‘is neuromarketing manipulation?’ you will get 470,000 results from different sources debating on how far is too far.

If you google ‘laws against behavioral manipulation’, you will find that there are no laws that protect citizens from marketing behavioral manipulation. While the FTC has imposed laws against marketing manipulation under false information, what are we to do when we are dealing with very real user information?

It is my dream that all colleges and universities touch on this topic in their curriculum. Learning about data, ethics, and new technologies like neuromarketing shouldn’t be a privilege but rather a requirement.

As future marketers, it is our responsibility to set the boundaries between influence and manipulation. To protect our users and their data. To talk with our company’s policy-makers, data scientists, and people-management to decide where we draw the line.

And as a side note, that line isn’t looking terribly far.

#Marketing #Innovation #Technology #Data #Ethics #DataSustainability #SiliconValley #NEU #NEU-SSF #MKTG4983



Fernanda López
Fernanda’s Knowledge Vault

Marketing & Neuroscience Student | Co-Vice President of Northeastern’s WeBuild Incubator | Passion for learning