Friday, December 10, 2010


Consumer products always need promotion and name of the game is to constantly "remind" the consumer about the advantages of the products promoted. It is rightly said that a good product can be a disastrous failure if not promoted through saturation advertisements and a bad product may become a run away success if adequate investments are made on promotion! Industry employs many techniques and strategies to get into the confidence of the consumer that include promotion through advertisements in print media, promotion through electronic media, demos and free sampling, incentive schemes, riding on other popular products etc. But all these have their own limitations, most important one being the tendency of the consumer to forget the so called virtues over a period of time which calls for repeated projection of the product.

Claims printed on the label of a packed food have most impact when consumers browse through the aisles of supermarkets and the labeling regulations are, there fore, put in place to prevent inclusion of unsubstantiated claims by unscrupulous manufacturers for short term gains. Still there are industry practices to include vague claims that can resonate with a large segment of the consumer community. The mandatory nutrition labeling gives further opportunity to the manufacturer to play around with the formulation to score over the competitor. Thus a higher fiber content, a lower sodium content or a marginal increase in protein content can attract many discerning consumers to patronize such products. Recent euphoria about antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, stannols and some functional phytochemicals has contributed to a plethora of new food products with tall claims though how they will function in human beings with different health status is still a matter of speculation.

Use of human psychology to influence the mind of the customer is not a new strategy but with more and more insight being gained about human brain major marketeers strive to gain advantage in pushing the products of their clients. Different hues of color for the product, ambiance of the environment, optimization of design of eateries, digital display of life size products, use of different aroma or smell that reminds about the products, design of packaging modes that attracts the consumer, ergonomic design of seating system to make the customer more comfortable and other features do play important roles in establishing a good first impression about a product or a brand.

The latest emerging trend is to use neuroscience to "enslave" the consumer without his knowledge. Many major industry and market innovation firms are actively pursuing this line of promotional technique called "neuromarketing ", probably out of their anxiety to edge out the competitors. The new technique is based on the premise that human brain expends only 2% of the energy on conscious activities with the rest devoted to unconscious processing, implying that many decisions made by man are at the unconscious level and this is a fertile area where consumer product industry can target their promotional activities in influencing the unconscious area of decision making. This has led to the so called mind mining techniques through EEG, MRI scans, eye tracking, skin, muscle or facial response to products and advertisements.

A major worry that confronts this type of frontier research is whether such techniques capable of probing subconscious brain patterns would be used to exercise undue influence on consumer buying decision. Is it possible that such practices could turn the consumers into glorified shopping robots indulging in a buying spree without their knowledge and consent? What are the social repercussions of such a strategy if widely used by the industry? Since it involves a combination of branding and brainwashing, the new neuromarketing technique is often referred to as "Brandwashing". Most advertising regulations at present are meant to protect children because they do not have fully developed brain with in-built defense against undue influence compared to adults who have this faculty to distinguish between truth and lies. There may be some substance in the call by consumer activists to bring in regulations that will protect the "digital privacy" of the buyers.

Though the above developments are projected as "path-breaking" by the marketing agencies, considerable ambiguity and lack of clear understanding still make this area at best a long shot with years of work ahead to bring absolute clarity. What ever little is known about neuromarketing, raises critical questions regarding the ability of mankind to resist such approach, almost bordering on "hypnotization" which works on the sub-conscious mind to elicit information which other wise would be withheld by the subject. Another disturbing question is whether the mind mining techniques will help new "Hitlers and Goebbels" to emerge from amongst the political class, if they are misused!


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