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Neuromarketing and the ethical issue

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Neuromarketing and the ethical question

As we now know, in the Neuromarketing field, neural activity is associated with consumer behavior to carry out targeted advertising campaigns.

Neuroscience is therefore increasingly becoming involved in marketing research.

To do this, we mainly use technologies from the medical sector, such as the electroencephalogram, which allows to study the areas of the brain that are activated during the visualization of a specific product, advertising, brand etc..

All this has raised many debates on the subject of ethics around Neuromarketing.

In fact there are consumers and experts who often ask me if these methodologies can somehow manipulate the behavior of those who are going to buy a specific product.

In particular, I have noted that the biggest fears of the consumer community relate to the issues of manipulation, but also to privacy and accountability.

I mean, the main question here is, how ethical is it to use neuroscience to sell more?

Is Neuromarketing the same as manipulation and persuasion?

Is Neuromarketing really capable of manipulating free will and persuading people to buy compulsively?

Probably not. And I’ll explain why.

Neuromarketing is not able to provide any special pathway to making consumers unable to control their actions and impulses.

Neuromarketing, on the other hand, is able to predict some purchasing behaviour, but this certainly does not mean manipulating.

In fact, with Neuromarketing you can make highly probabilistic predictions that are not deterministic.

What does it mean? That it is simply not possible to persuade a consumer to buy a product but rather it is possible to predict it.

Neuromarketing studies and research that we professionals conduct provide answers about the likelihood that consumers will purchase certain products in some circumstances rather than in others.

Consumers can be predictable in a probabilistic way even if they remain free to decide.

In conclusion, prediction and probability of taking a certain behavior are very different things from persuasion and manipulation.

The ethical part of Neuromarketing: the neuroethics

A few decades ago, journalist William Saffire introduced the term neuroethics through an article published in the New York Times.

He defined this discipline as “a field of investigation that deals with the assessment of what is right or wrong, good or bad about the unwanted treatment, refinement or invasion and the worrying manipulation of the human mind”.

Neuroethics is a recent field of study and reflection of human morality on new neuroscientific knowledge.

It is a discipline still being defined but in a constant organizational progress.

The Code of Ethics of the NMSBA

The NMSBA (Neuromarketing Science and Business Association) has published a Code of Ethics which represents the first step towards an international regulation of the use of neuroscientific methods to study the following topics:

  • Marketing campaigns
  • Design of packaging and products
  • Communication campaigns of non-profit organisations and government institutions

Furthermore, the Code of Ethics for the Neuromarketing industry is based on the following themes:

  • restore public confidence for Neuromarketing
  • ensuring the protection of the privacy of market research participants
  • protect buyers of Neuromarketing services

The importante of protecting the weakest

However, when it comes to the ethics of Neuromarketing, there are clear and indisputable boundaries that absolutely must be put into practice especially with regard to the most vulnerable categories of consumers.

These include, of course, children, teenagers, people with addictions such as gambling, shopping, alcohol, people with big debts or cognitive illnesses.

These specific categories must be able to benefit from specific safeguards within the neuroscientific and neuromarketing disciplines.

If you want to know more, you can send me an email to .

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