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Neuromarketing: Advertising to the Brain



The ethicality of neuromarketing is a highly debated topic in business today. Neuromarketing is the practice of analyzing brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging, electroencephalography, and other methods to create a marketing mix that resonates better with consumers. In other words, variation in wave emission and activity from different parts of the brain allow marketers to discover what strategies appeal best to customers. Though there are critics of the practice that argue it invades consumers’ privacy and gives firms the potential to market products in a deceptive way to make a profit, neuromarketing ultimately will create benefits for the consumer and producer by improving products in the market so long as firms comply with the law.

A Valuable Tool

Neuromarketing is a valuable tool that allows firms to better understand their consumers, who may not act as rationally as they believe. The following image explains the large influence of the subconscious mind in buying behavior, a factor only neuromarketing can allow marketers to fully understand (Frary).


Neuromarketing Pushes Better Products into the Market

Neuromarketing allows marketers to be more effective with promotional plans but also gives them insight as to what products appeal to consumers. “This is beneficial to both companies and buyers because it will foster the development of products that are really desired by people” (Al Pop). By understanding more clearly what appeals to consumers, producers will be able to adjust innovation and marketing techniques to better suit their taste.

By analyzing neuron activity, businesses can see what products are more appealing than others and why based on where it triggers activity in the brain, allowing them to enhance their products to satisfy consumer needs. This will benefit consumers because the market will include products that are more tailored to their personal needs and which are better suited for their lifestyles. It will benefit producers because by improving the relevance of their product to consumers, they will make a greater profit and have higher customer satisfaction.


Coca-Cola has publicly used neuromarketing techniques, judging subconscious reactions to judge how appealing its formula is to consumers. To maintain a high demand for the soda, especially important with a competitor like Pepsi providing a similar product, using facial imaging has allowed Coca-Cola to adapt its drinks to provide those who drink this soda to be the most content. To those who like Coca-Cola, whether it’s the can or bottle it comes in, the color, fizziness, flavor, freshness, or sweetness level, neuromarketing is largely to thank. Similarly, for those who prefer Coke to Pepsi, hopefully, this gives some insight into why. Neuromarketing and sensory analysis allow producers to create these products that people love before you even know it.

Neuromarketing Improves Advertising Campaigns

One commonly held misconception against neuromarketing is that it gives firms the potential to circumvent consumers’ autonomy. With the ability to dig deeper into a buyer’s psyche by analyzing the way their brain functions, neuromarketing gives marketers a significant amount of influence and power over a consumer’s decision to buy their product.

Analyzing neural responses to a variety of marketing tactics could allow marketers to create promotional strategies that undermine a consumer’s ability to have free-will with their purchases. That is to say, “by scanning consumer’s brains and possibly discovering a ‘super-effective’ communication technique, corporations will be able to ‘push the buy button’ in a consumer’s brain thereby being able to easily manipulate consumers’ behavior,” which would be considered highly immoral corporate action by consumers (Flores).

Insight Into Consumers

It is true that neuromarketing will give marketers a significant amount of insight into consumers’ buying behavior. However, “while neuroscience might help improve predictions of consumer choice, there is no current evidence of a ‘‘buy button’’ in the brain…Neuromarketing provides no special path—even in principle—for optimizing a marketing message to render consumers unable to control their actions” (Stanton).

Neuromarketing allows firms to generalize how their marketing efforts will be received by the public and strategize how to maximize its positive impact on consumers. In no way does the use of neuromarketing render participants completely incapable of making their own decisions or force them to buy a product. Marketers can use the results of neuromarketing to determine which strategies to use to be the most convincing to the most people but to suggest that neuromarketing has the potential to completely take over the brain and force a purchase is false.

Laws Prevent Firms from Making Empty Marketing Claims

Arguably, even though neuromarketing gives firms the potential to create a better product, there is nothing forcing them to do so. With this, neuroscience could be used to create a message to increase sales “but which does not reflect faithfully the reality about the product characteristics…This could mislead consumers into buying goods that do not meet their needs and are not fully up to the promises made” (Al Pop).

Neuroscience opens the barrier between producer and consumer, giving a producer the ability to see what type of product would appeal more to a buyer and what advertising strategy to implement to best convince them to make a purchase. If corporations use this technique to just enhance their marketing strategy, though, and make no improvements to their products, they would be immorally using neuromarketing to benefit themselves with no benefit to the consumer.

Legal Obligations

Fortunately, firms that decide to use neuromarketing are limited by certain restrictions and legal obligations that prevent them from harming the consumer in this way. As per the American Marketing Association, marketers have a duty to “[be] honest in serving consumers, clients, employees, suppliers, distributors, and the public” so consumers can expect that “communications about offered products and services are not deceptive” (Code of Ethics).

With laws holding corporations to certain standards, the likelihood of firms using marketing to promote unimproved products is reduced. Maintaining legal boundaries for firms is a way to keep firms in check, to prevent the market from existing with all power in the producer’s hand over the consumer.

If firms want to use neuromarketing to advertise a product as high-end and high-quality, they are legally required to ensure that their product lives up to the standards they are promoting it as being. The legal restrictions placed on firms increases the potential of neuromarketing to lead to a market more customized for consumer needs and therefore reassures that neuromarketing will benefit both producers and consumers.

Neuromarketing by Nonprofit and For-Profit Organizations is Equally Ethical

Some critics of neuroscience who buy into the idea that it gives firms the ability to completely rid the consumer of autonomy believe that neuromarketing may be justified when put to a good cause. Studies show “that the use of neuromarketing by for-profit organizations [is] perceived to be unethical while…for [non-profit organizations], the decision to use neuromarketing…results in an overwhelmingly positive response” (Flores).

This means that these people perceived undermining their free will as a positive action when they believed it was being used to improve the world in some way. By this mindset, neuromarketing for non-profit firms will be used to generate more donations, increase awareness and increase sponsorship levels, which justifies the action.

This argument defeats itself. If the concept of digging into one’s mind to make a profit is considered immoral by these people, the action itself should be considered immoral regardless of the end goal. If these people believe neuromarketing is an invasion of their privacy as consumers, it should be no different when a nonprofit organization is utilizing the practice and when a for-profit organization is. Furthermore, it does not deconstruct the fact that neuromarketing allows producers to create a market that is better suited for both firms and consumers.

This in itself could be seen as a beneficial end goal; while the use of neuromarketing for nonprofit organizations can be used to improve larger societal problems, its use by for-profit organizations will benefit all individual consumers and therefore invalidates that argument.

Benefits The Producer And Consumer

Neuromarketing has benefited both the producer and consumer by creating more appealing, targeted products that are more efficiently marketed. The practice gives consumers the opportunity to enjoy products that appeal to their senses and whole self, and producers the capability to make better products and have higher customer satisfaction.

While arguments continue to be made about whether neuromarketing is intrusive and unethical, they are largely based on misconception and are not based in fact. Neuromarketing is simply a tactic used by first to make an educated guess on how to best advertise and innovate high-quality, appealing products. Neuromarketing is the in line with growing technological trends and is likely the effective future of product promotion.

Works Cited

Al Pop, Nicolae, Dan-Cristian Dabija, and Ana M. Iorga. “ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITY OF NEUROMARKETING COMPANIES IN HARNESSING THE MARKET RESEARCH – A GLOBAL EXPLORATORY APPROACH.” Amfiteatru Economic, vol. 16, no. 35, 2014, pp. 26-40, ABI/INFORM Collection; Business Premium Collection; International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS); ProQuest Central,

“Code of Ethics.” Code of Ethics / Marketing / CBA, California State University, Long Beach,

Flores, Jason, Arne Baruca, and Robert Saldivar. “IS NEUROMARKETING ETHICAL? CONSUMERS SAY YES. CONSUMERS SAY NO.” Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, vol. 17, no. 2, 2014, pp. 77-91, ABI/INFORM Collection; Business Premium Collection; ProQuest Central,

Frary, Mark. “How analyzing the consumer brain provides key marketing insights.” Rancoteur, Rancoteur Media Ltd., 1 Sept. 2016,

Stanton, Steven J., Walter Sinnott-armstrong, and Scott A. Huettel. “Neuromarketing: Ethical Implications of its use and Potential Misuse.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 144, no. 4, 2017, pp. 799-811, ABI/INFORM Collection; Arts & Humanities Database; Business Premium Collection; International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS); PAIS Index; Political Science Database; ProQuest Central; Social Science Database,, doi:


Author: Uma Kirloskar 
Uma is a second year, pre-accounting student at the University of Southern California. She has been a passionate writer since childhood and is working to develop her skills throughout college.
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