History of Neuromarketing

A series of advances in neuroscience demolish the idea of ​​the human being as an animal 100% rational and fully aware of its decisions.


A series of advances in neuroscience demolish the idea of ​​the human being as an animal 100% rational and fully aware of its decisions. The development of neuroimaging techniques (fMRI) and the refinement of biometrics point to the important role of non-conscious emotions with increasing clarity. The progress of disciplines such as neuroanatomy, neurophysiology or cognitive neuroscience opens the way to know the great unknown of the human body: the brain.

In this situation, the investigation of the markets, discovers its blind spot. The reason why 50% of the products launched fail. They also need to access the irrational side to have a comprehensive view of the consumer.

That was going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. However, this relationship did not take the name of neuromarketing until the new millennium, partly because of the hesitation and secrecy of its beginnings.

The beginnings

Neuroscience is a relatively young discipline in the 80s. After a turbulent adolescence – lobotomies and various misbehaviors – it begins to take firm steps in the knowledge of the brain. On the marketing side, in the 1990s important companies (Coca-Cola, Ford, Levi-Strauss) go to pioneering research centers in the field to commission market studies with neurotechnology and biometric techniques. As is common in the frontier of knowledge, the relationship between marketing and science is – almost always – furtive: studies are confidential.

The academic world begins to take an active role and organize research and events. The first academic study dates from 2003: Read Montague’s Neural correlates of behavioral preference for culturally familiar drinks. The first international congress in which the subject is treated, of 2004, in the Baylor Medical School of Houston.

However, at the same time the baton of the investigation ceases to be the exclusive property of the academic world when it was founded in the USA. the first specialized companies in consumer neuroscience: Brighthouse (2001), SalesBrain (2002). With them a term that had begun to sound is consolidated and ends up giving the name to the discipline: neuromarketing. Collins will give you his blessing by including the term in his prestigious dictionary.

From chaos to order

In marketing, then, a kind of neuroscience fever is experienced. The number of companies dedicated to neuromarketing grows. The discipline jumps to other continents. It talks about the purchase button in the brain among other slogans and fireworks.

Faced with the euphoria, from the science they do not take in leaving critics to the ethics and findings of the new discipline. There is talk of “brain scam”: consumer manipulation, invasion of privacy, lack of rigor in the results. The presence of neuropredicadores, illusionists of marketing that disguise the discipline of magic potion definitive in investigation of markets, does not help either.

In order to bring order to this Wild West luck of marketing, the NMSBA (NeuroMarketing Science and Business Association) emerged in 2012, an organization in charge of overseeing and promoting the discipline, which will create an ethical code of obligatory subscription for all its members.

The criticism continues today, but the number of companies continues to grow and the technology to advance. With wearable devices, applications in market research multiply. The rigorous work of neurotechnology companies attracts more and more clients and of very different profile. Giants of the market research such as Nielsen or IPSOS include neuromarketing studies in their portfolio of services.

Neuromarketing, aware of its limitations, follows its path. Driven by companies increasingly neuro and less marketing, seeks to contribute to create useful products that meet the rational and emotional needs of the consumer.