Understanding how real choices are made

D. Murali | Updated on May 11, 2011 Published on May 11, 2011

The Branded Mind by Erik du Plessis

Neuroscience's bio-measures and theories about the brain will have a big impact on marketing, foresees Erik du Plessis in The Branded Mind (

The contribution to marketing from the neurosciences will be at two levels, he adds. “At a lower level, there will be bio-measurement techniques such as EEG (electroencephalography), used to identify whether there is electronic activity when respondents are exposed to adverts, pack designs, brand logos, etc. At a higher, more general level, there will be greater insights about how decisions are made, how people differ culturally, how their personalities differ, etc.”

There are companies that are trying to make EEG equipment so cheap that they can be distributed to members of a large panel, who then become respondents in surveys, one learns. The book mentions, as example, a meditation self-help product that uses galvanic skin response (GSR) to teach you how to relax. “There are a few computer games that use GSR to activate actions on the screen. The next step will be to include EEG and eye scanning into games, thereby, creating a whole segment of the population that own and use bio-measuring equipment.”

‘Buy button'

Another technology discussed in the book is TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) which can allow you to activate or deactivate brain areas by applying brief magnetic impulses over the scalp. Extending this to the marketing sphere, the author notes that when the media talk about a ‘buy button,' the imagery can be of a technology whereby we can activate an area in the brain that causes people to desire a specific brand.

While in some science-fiction way we can imagine that with this technology we should be able to activate the dopamine pathways when a consumer uses our brand, or is near it at the shelf, which would make them purchase our brand, this is simply not going to happen, reads a reassuring remark of the author.

He sees, however, a great potential in health-related applications. Sample these scenarios, described in the book: “People with epilepsy will be wearing sensors and when these detect the onset of a fit, the deactivator TMS will knock out the area in the brain where the fit starts. Recovering alcoholics and smokers can wear these bands and each time they feel the desire to drink or smoke, the deactivator TMS will knock out the areas responsible…”

Emotions and rationality

In the author's view, the biggest philosophical thought that we have seen in three centuries is of the neurologist Antonio Damasio, whose book Descartes' Error (1995) highlighted the role of emotions. “Since Descartes, 300 years ago, said ‘I think, therefore I am,' which we have philosophically equated with ‘I am rational, therefore I am,' we have seen emotions as something that interfere with rationality. Damasio changed the whole paradigm by positing ‘I have emotions, therefore I am rational.'”

Cautioning marketers to tread clear of the trap of ‘emotions versus rational,' Erik explains that it is wrong to say we are driven by our emotions to the exclusion of rationality. For, what Damasio said was the two are inextricably interlinked — and this is because of the way our brains are built.

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Published on May 11, 2011
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