As a consumer, you may feel that the decisions you make in regards to purchases (spontaneous sundae allocation aside) is something that is entirely up to you. By using your five senses and paying close attention to the products available to you, a rational choice can be made in regards to what you truly want. In a world that has become increasingly saturated with so many brands and different options, one’s ability to make these conscious decisions is more essential than ever, right? Well, according to a recent study published in the acclaimed Journal of Neuroscience, this attentiveness to purchases may actually be illusory. In fact, if the findings of the study are to be believed, many of the decisions that consumers make in regards to brand preference are actually unconscious, with people having a tendency to adopt the same purchasing habits whether they are paying direct attention to the product before them or not.
How was this tested, you may ask? Well, in the study, which was derived from prior research done by professor’s Knutson and Loewenstein, relied on a number of subjects observing various cars, proceeding to explain which ones they preferred once the test was over. You may be shaking your head thinking, ‘wow, I look at cars every day but have yet to spontaneously buy one’, but wait a second, there’s more. You see, the subjects were divided into two control groups, with one directing their focus at the cars (dubbed the high attention group (probably the professor’s favourite students)), while the other was distracted, with their attention directed elsewhere (shocker, these were called the low attention group). After having a scan over the cars, the groups were asked to make decisions regarding their willingness to purchase each one. The results? Well, the group’s choices, as well as neural scans that displayed their brain function, unveiled that those who were paying little attention ultimately made the same decisions as those who had directed their focus at the products. Both groups, low and high, displayed the same brain waves that indicate these choices were being made. Kind of makes you wish you had some neuroimaging equipment handy when you go Christmas shopping, eh?
For the marketing world, these findings are actually quite remarkable as they essentially imply that people make implicit purchasing decisions, choosing to buy things even when their attention isn’t fully directed at it. While subliminal advertising has always been a topic of debate, with a significant number of people grouping it under the ‘conspiracy theory’ umbrella of conversation, this research may actually prove otherwise. Before you go and try and blend your company’s logo and phone number into every section of sidewalk and building corner you can find, just remember that the person must be at least somewhat familiar with whichever product or service you are offering first. One vital thing that you can take away from this study is the fact that neuromarketing is a relatively new intersection of business and science, one that will continue to offer intriguing information such as this as the years go by.