Neuroscience Marketing

You cannot tailor customers to your idea, you have to tailor your campaign

By Daryll Scott, Director of Human Technology

LAB Group


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December 20, 2017 | 6 min read

Humans are complicated creatures that are difficult to figure out – or at least that's what we like to think. The reality is although we have different IQs, personalities and interests, the decision-making process is an emotional one. Once agencies stop focusing on logic and start focusing on emotion, they completely change the game of advertising.


Nothing happens without emotion

Cambridge Analytica is an example of a company that invested in science over the last few years of working in political environments and elections. They worked across these campaigns using a personality profile called Ocean, which they used to profile a huge number of people in America.

The Ocean test scores you across five categories: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Here is an example:

Ocean score

In preparation for the presidential election, the company took the same advert and adapted different images and language to match the level of neuroticism of their audience:

Second amendment

This was used in conjunction with a large number of split tests to affect the result, because it played to different consumer's emotions. It is this technique of selective marketing which agencies need to employ in order to engage a large audience.

Neuroscience has taught us that people act on their emotions. Despite teaching ourselves to make professional decisions based on logic, we live in a world where we are both irrational and emotional. Although this unpredictable behaviour appears to make advertising more difficult, this could be a really fun game for agencies – there is a huge opportunity to play the game well, and it could be an unfair advantage for marketers.

Behavioural psychology

Anatidaephobia is the debilitating fear that somewhere, at any given moment, a duck is watching you. This may seem bizarre, but the person suffering with this fear has created a thought process which causes extreme anxiety. Phobias can be quite amusing – I've had patients that have told me that they themselves find the situation funny because logically, they are aware that it is ridiculous. However, that conscious narrative of the fear being illogical has absolutely zero impact on their emotional response.

We tend to think of ourselves as conscious beings, that we are led around by our conscious intentions and make decisions in real-time. But the reality is, we don’t. In fact, we tend to make conscious decisions up to 10 seconds after making that decision unconsciously; there is an interesting paradox between how we, through our language and our culture, think we run the show, and what the reality is.

Neuroscience explains that our consciousness is, at best, a spectator; by the time we’ve made a conscious decision, it’s already happened.

How do we work out what’s going on?

Let's look at it simply: there is a stimulus, we immediately and biochemically react to it, and then that response fundamentally governs up our sections, choices, and actions. So understanding this response is hugely valuable to marketers.

Nothing happens without emotion. The most convincing example of this is that people who have been in a traumatic accident can sustain a brain injury which prevents them from feeling their feelings. The people who suffer from this condition cannot make a decision. If they were presented with a multiple choice, they would simply burst into tears because the decision is so stressful. The reason for this is a degree of weighing up every decision, even the very logical ones.

It is important to point out that the IQ of the people experiencing this condition remains the same. They are still just as good at sudoku and algebra as they were before, but if you were to offer them a cup of tea, they would not be able to decide. Non-conscience does not mean stupid – that’s where most of the decision making goes on. But nothing happens without emotion.

We think of our consciousness as really clever and we tend to think of unconsciousness as some sort of zombie state, but the reality is our unconscious processes are incredibly complex and fast and are involved in everything we do; consciousness is just a slither of our attention.


Imagine you are marketing a product to a male above the age of 65, who lives in Great Britain. He is a successful and wealthy celebrity who is married with kids, loves dogs and enjoys the outdoors.

When people are given a scenario like this, they begin to develop a picture of this person. Yet, these credentials are equally true for both Prince Charles and Ozzy Osborne – two very different personalities that you wouldn’t market to in the same way.

A company cannot put all people into the same category, because similarity is not sameness. Agencies need to begin thinking about what personality their product or service is aimed at, or which few personalities they are going to create campaigns for to attract them to the same product.

The Procrustean Bed

Procrustes is a figure from Greek mythology who had a stronghold between Athens and Eleusis. He would invite all travellers-by into his home, and being a perfectionist, would immaculately host his guests. The legend behind Procrustes is that when he offered them his iron bed for the night, he would either stretch out or amputate the limbs of his guests so they would perfectly.

The procrustean bed is a good analogy of how we are changing the wrong variable. You do not tailor a jacket to someone by surgically rearranging their limbs, so we cannot fit customers to suit our decisions – we have to adapt to them.

Marketers need to consider the value of human experience. Plan who you are marketing to, consider the five different personality traits, and invest in research to get accurate results if unclear on your direction. Humans are emotional and irrational beings – but play the game right, and you can discover an unfair advantage.

Daryll Scott is director of human technology at Lab digital agency.

Neuroscience Marketing

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