Guard Your Reptilian Brain!

Every year or so, some fuzzy-thinking critic reads an article about neuromarketing, becomes extremely agitated, and tries to raise the alarm about marketers turning consumers into mind-controlled zombies. The latest push of the neuro-panic button began with an article on a site called Truthout (fresh out of truth, perhaps?). Truthout seems to be a sort of conspiracy theory haven that seeks to use “the ever-expanding power of the Internet… to spread reliable information, peaceful thought and progressive ideas throughout the world.” Here’s their take on neuromarketing:

Guard your reptilian brain. Corporations and politicians are trying to tap into it to use the latest brain research and sales techniques to influence your buying and voting patterns…

Using a form of marketing known as neuromarketing, corporations and politicians are using MRIs, EEGs, and other brain-scan and medical technology to craft irresistible media messages designed to shift buying habits, political beliefs and voting patterns… [From "Spellcasters": The Hunt for the "Buy-Button" in Your Brain.]

I’ve talked about the impossibility of creating “super-ads” in the past. If it was possible to create a 30 second TV spot that would turn consumers into mindless drones, that feat would have been accomplished long ago. Neuromarketing studies may help tweak the appeal of some ads, and perhaps eliminate some totally ineffective ads, but simply aren’t going to turn ads into mind control devices.

The Truthout rant is authored by “World Business Academy” who also posted this anti-advertising video on their own site:

I was disappointed that the video didn’t work in my favorite descriptor, “Orwellian,” until the two minute mark. The video also proclaims neuromarketing to be unethical (and creepy, too!) without explaining the logic for this determination. Personally, I think marketers squandering shareholder money and viewer attention on ads that are disliked or ineffective is, if not unethical, just plain wasteful.

If the video pushes the right buttons in YOUR brain and convinces you that neuromarketing is evil, they have a petition you can sign, too. :)


This post was written by:

— who has written 985 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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13 responses to "Guard Your Reptilian Brain!" — Your Turn


Dennis Van Staalduinen
Twitter: denvan
1. February 2010 at 1:09 pm

Brilliant. Thanks for taking on the giant lumbering lizards with another great post.

But then again, it is just the nefarious design of your site with all those subliminal zombie triggers that is making me say this…

Please sell me something quickly!


Twitter: verilliance
1. February 2010 at 1:12 pm

Well said, though even with my interest in neuromarketing, I see why people would have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of neuromarketing. At this time, it is true that neuromarketing cannot create the perfect ad for absolute mind-control, but they would LIKE to, and I think that’s what gives people the heebie-jeebies.

For the most part, I think neuromarketing will only enhance consumer experience, and not just with ads, but with improved products too! Products that actually meet our unvoiced needs. Things that make our lives better in ways we hadn’t even thought of for ourselves yet.

What scares me more than marketing with neuroscience technologies, is the creation of television shows, video games, and movies with the technology. The plan is to keep the audiences’ brain at a constant level of excitation…and that just reminds me too much of the Skinner Box studies with rats starving themselves to death in favor of relentless, direct stimulation to the reward pathway.


Sculptor?!? 1. February 2010 at 8:08 pm

Wait, are they confusing subliminal messaging/marketing with Neuromarketing? Because that’s like comparing apples and rocks.


NoOneYouKnow 1. February 2010 at 8:19 pm

Truthout’s not a “conspiracy haven,” it’s simply a site for progressive politics. However, smearing it as you’ve done is as great an indictment of you and your profession as anything they could have written. Sleazy and dishonest, and exactly why most people hate marketing and marketers.


Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
1. February 2010 at 10:09 pm

Hmmm, a little sensitive, are we? Hardly a smear, IMO… I’d call my comments a “critique.” Thanks for stopping by, NOYK.


Mark Davidson 2. February 2010 at 3:02 am

I’m a level 14 spell caster. It’s not my fault if the unsuspecting viewer fails their saving throw.


Pim Ruigrok 2. February 2010 at 4:32 pm

People ( read=adults) will continuelly make their own choice, always on an consciously level. Especially in liberal Europe. Neuromarketing only tries to bring the technique of consumerseduction to a higher level.

Is the nature of neuromarketing really worse than the consumer who is using the advantage of his buyingposition to negotiate with two suppliers? Also that process has its impact on the subconsciousness of both salesmen. We are all people!

The impact of neuromarketing will be that companies will improve their communication with their customers. No endless enumeration of product properties but creating unique perception.

Provisionally neuromarketing have my support. We are already – on an operational saleslevel – start working with neurosalestechniques. Finally a salesfilosofy that isn’t boring the client!


Brendon Clark 2. February 2010 at 6:06 pm

Let’s be fair. To those who don’t understand something, it’s easy to be afraid of it and neuromarketing is firstly, easy to misunderstand and, secondly, because of the misunderstanding, easy to be really afraid of. Who wouldn’t be scared of mind manipulation if that’s what it could do?

However, Roger’s right though. If there were techniques that could do this, we would have done it and then shamelessly abused it by now. Surely the military would have investigated this already? Surely savvy marketers would have exploited any angle they could have?


Cindy 8. February 2010 at 11:04 am

The writers from Truthout are not fully aware that the neuromarketing industry spawned because adults have decision making patterns that can be understood and leveraged by big corporations. It’s not as if our brains have just begun to make decisions this way!

Am I the only one who thinks those aluminum foil hats look cute on that family sitting in front of the tv? It complements the glazed-over look they have as they mindlessly watch television instead of spending quality time away from multimedia.


No One 3. April 2010 at 5:12 am

That’s just desperate. Is there anything these corporations will not try except the obvious; better products, lower prices and better service. It’s quite pathetic to be having to spend millions to find ways to squeeze 50 cents more out of every person. My reptilian brain always tells me to run as soon as information I did not require is being projected to me in an appealing way. And since no one really requires all that much, that is most of the time. It’s sad to think this is what passes for human progress these days.


Jeff Palmer 2. September 2010 at 7:57 am

Advertisers use fear to sell products all the time, fringe political groups and conspiracy seekers use it too. They are both appealing to the same primary human motivators. I’m looking at this and find it amusing that Truthout is basically saying, “Be afraid of those using this promotional method, but not afraid of us when we do the same”.


Berthon 25. May 2012 at 5:26 pm

Neuromarketing : répugnant.
Je ne suis pas spécialement militante mais là je sors de mes gonds.
” Nous ” avons lutté durant des centaines de millions d’années pour devenir des êtres humains en développant notre cortex, et sortir du statut animal qui n’a que le cerveau limbique pour se repérer.
Nous manipuler sur les odeurs pour nous forcer à consommer est ce qu’il y a de pire : c’est faire appel à celui de nos 5 sens le plus primitif et le plus enfoui dans le cerveau primitif.


Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
27. May 2012 at 8:53 am

Berthon, the good news is that in reality even appealing to our brain with sensory marketing like smell won’t really persuade us to do anything we don’t want to do. Human decision-making is a complex process, and marketers can influence the process but will never find a “buy button.”



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