What is Neuromarketing and how does it affect our children?


Even though we may not think about it much, we have all seen the effects of clever marketing on children - particularly in the lead up to Christmas

Neuromarketing is a term used to describe how companies attempt to advertise to consumers on a subconscious level. It explores people’s buying habits by applying neuroscientific strategies to the marketing of various products or issues.

How does neuromarketing work?

Through neuro-imaging techniques, scientists now have the ability to link up the basic decision-making processes, memories, attention, withdrawal, motivation or feelings of consumers with reactions and responses to brands and brand loyalty.

It has been increasingly used via media in recent years with many experts expressing concern about the negative impact on society and particularly, on the consumer.

In time, it is believed that the technology will allow companies to tap into the reasons why certain messages or advertising campaigns don’t connect with audiences and make the necessary adjustments.

What are the effects of neuromarketing on children?

Naturally, there are some questions around the ethics of this practice – particularly pertaining to the neuromarketing of children.

While children are considered part of the vulnerable population, in advertising terms this is broken down again into a) the empowered child and b) the vulnerable child.

The thought process is that empowered children will have the cognitive ability to process what they are being shown and employ critical thought as to whether or not they need or want the product. Meanwhile, vulnerable children do not possess this capability and are therefore, more likely to fall prey to any marketing ploys they are exposed to.

Studies have shown that advertising promotes materialistic values in children and can put a huge strain on the parent-child relationship. It also introduces the idea of life dissatisfaction and comparisons with people who are supposedly better off than they are. For example:

“I wish I had X. They have X, why can’t I? My life would be better if I had X. I won’t be happy until I have X. If you loved me you would get me X” etc.

Should neuromarketing have stronger regulation?

There have been calls for greater regulation around neuromarketing to children and in a recent study, collated by Amani Al Abbas, Weifeng Chen and Maria Saberi, they speak about the worry expressed to the American Psychologists in 1999 regarding the ethics of this type of marketing and how it was largely ignored. The study states:

“Psychologists likewise get data from the field of neuropsychology to create NM strategies that are intended to help marketers achieve the triune mind (the emotional midbrain and the primitive receptive brain) so as to make it “basically unimaginable for basic thinking and successful decision marking to happen while viewing an advertisement” (Schor, 2004, p. 111). Psychologists were utilizing their knowledge to help organizations advertise and market to children focusing on and encouraging consumerism amongst those children.”

It concludes that the research over the course of the last few years shows that exclusive consumerism aimed at children, tweens and teens can cause damage.

What can we do?

It is up to parents and caregivers to limit the amount of advertising children are exposed to from an early age.

Once they are old enough to comprehend what they are seeing, we must do our best to ensure they are as well-equipped as they can be to process the constant stream of content they will absorb in the world around them.

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