The Birth of Neuromarketing

The Birth of Neuromarketing


Picture this. It’s a scorching hot summer, precisely the 24th of August. While at a gathering with old and new friends, people just can’t seem to stop themselves from chatting, and debating about the upcoming elections... Who should they vote for? Why? Why not?

In social situations like this, one’s skills in storytelling and persuasion are key to move and convince others of compelling thoughts, opinions, and facts.  But wait, where exactly is this fiasco taking this place? Are they in New York? Is it 2020? Have they fast forwarded to another hopeful time, convinced that America will become great again?

Nope. Not this time. Let’s take you way back in time.

It’s August 24, 79 AD in Pompeii, where the first social network and form of advertising is born. If you are either a Millennial or Gen-Z, you can call this time in Pompeii the “Pre-Facebook Era” or “Pre-Mobile Era” as you wish, but ads that pop up whilst you scroll through your browser or smartphone are not the first form of marketing that took place. Shocker.


It all began in Pompeii, the legendary place that was once upon a time a thriving and swanky Roman city in Italy’s southern region that unfortunately was buried in ash after a catastrophic volcanic eruption ruined the city.

So back to marketing.

Citizens of Pompeii were the first to use the most potent form of marketing up until today: word of mouth. In the sophisticated city, wall posts accompanied the word of mouth channel of communication to suggest topical conversations, quotes from their rulers, and endorsement by their peers. Art + Speech = Magic.

It’s hard to imagine that the first trace of marketing was formed in a city that was once covered in pumice and rocks and remained frozen in time literally until its discovery in 1748 by a surveying engineer.

From 79 AD to 2018, marketing and word of mouth has surely changed and shifted the way businesses of all sizes can attain, retain, attract and manage their customers and even how politicians can sway the majority of their nation.

Are you telling me this is a sign?

Advertising began to rule in three influential forms: trademarks, in-person announcers, and sign boards.

After the introduction of newspapers, the print was a way to publish or promote products and services in the written or graphic forms emerged. In the 19th century, advertisements started to appear in abundance in weekly newspapers in England, followed by an incredible boost in illustrations, prints, slogans, and even jingles that companies used as tactics to spread the word to the whole town, banking on word of mouth ever before. Humans love to talk, gossip, and share stories. We’re social creatures, after all.

In the 1920s, the American advertising industry came to being. It was as explosive, high-growth as it could get. The birth of the creative revolution began. In New York, when you heard Fifth Avenue, you thought fashion. When you heard Broadway, you pictured theatres, musicals, and screenplays. When you thought Wall Street, you think in the abstract sense of greed, capitalism, financial markets, and also may have heard Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko’s notorious phrases “money never sleeps.” And when you heard Madison Avenue, you envisioned eloquent copywriters, cocky yet sociable account planners, and compelling creative directors like Don Draper from Mad Men, the show that vividly showed the vivacious world of advertising.

By the 20th century, New York has established its renowned reputation for being the mecca of advertising. Everything it created, concocted, conceived was golden. Its momentous creation was the infamous “I Love New York” logo, which set off advertising as the best game plan to connect people within the city, was ultimately designed with a purpose to rescue he sinking New York economy by attracting more tourists.

 Source:  Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

This logo transcended the use of advertising. What was then a practice of amplifying recognitions or standards, promoting products or services and communicating their benefits, features, and utility had now paved the way to change behaviors, affect consumer’s minds, build connections within people, increase stimulus for perception, and devour finite awareness and attention. The simple logo moved people in profound ways to feel so much for a city such as New York and act upon that sentiment. People a century ago would scoff at these behavioral changes in society.

What’s even more interesting is how advertising has travelled from Pompeii to England to New York to the global and interconnected world today, wherein scientific and experiential observations allow you to influence people’s conscious and unconscious behaviors in response to their reactions to triggers and catalysts design to provoke action — from drinking an ice cold bottle of Corona in a beach during the summer, traveling to the tropical islands in Southeast Asia, or even taking your phone out the moment your exquisite sushi is delicately placed on your plate by the Michelin-starred chef so you can snap a photo.

Don’t stop tastin’ the feeling

If advertising had a mythology based on times of the Advertisement Era, its heroic and (possibly) immortal protagonist would be the resilient Coca-Cola, one of the most highly recognized brands that have not only utilized advertising strategically like many, but also neuroscientifically like only the few (who can afford it).

Coca-Cola first used slogans in 1886. It used slogans not only to communicate the brand’s identity, but to reflect the times it was set in. Let’s take a look at three slogans as examples:

  • 1886: Drink Coca-Cola

  • 1904: Delicious and Refreshing

  • 2009: Open Happiness

Can you notice the diction and descriptive purpose in each slogan? In 1886, Coca-Cola demanded - literally - that you drink. It was a simple call to action; just drink. Fast forward 18 years later, they appealed to the senses, epitomizing what Coca-Cola is and what benefits it provided you as an after taste. Over 100 years later, Coca-Cola’s messaging evolved from provoking direct and literal action, applying the sense of taste and quenching thirst, to using a state of consciousness to describe the feeling of sipping the classic beverage. In summary, Coca-Cola nailed the entire experience. Not only did it tell you what to do, but it also made sure you knew exactly what to feel. The Coke experience doesn’t begin when you go to the store and buy one, but it begins in the mind. Is it because you are thirsty? Or maybe because you are chowing down a huge slice of New York pizza and Coke goes well with it. Maybe you are off to go see another Pixar hit and you’ve got popcorn with you, so might as well get a Coke, right?

Coke transcended from being a beverage to being an experiential company. Aside from craving it (knowing full well it’s nowhere near good for your body), you are to be happy by design because you are—in the most hedonistic way—indulging yourself. You are Opening Happiness.

Now, if there can be an enormous difference in thoughts, emotions, feelings, behaviors, associations, and brand perception through the fundamental changes in slogans over the years, decades, and centuries, imagine what videos, online ads, billboards, images, experiences, songs, smells, sounds, tastes, textures, angles, colors, humor, fear, even positioning of inanimate objects could do to affect or alter your purchasing behaviors.

Large long-standing companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and Ford started to use neuromarketing to penetrate the mind and plant seeds for contextual memory and learning. Take it from Steve Jobs, the Father of the iPhone, who famously proclaimed, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them” and Henry Ford, the inventor of the modern world, who once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted they would have told me ‘A faster horse!’” Fueled by the objective to ultimately manage, retain, and acquire customers over time, marketers developed the desire to experiment with advertisements through the magical blend of art, science, and technology. With 21st century exposure to the digital, experiential age, marketing leaned toward neuroscience and psychology to understand the human, consuming brain.

Thus, the serendipitous birth of Neuromarketing.

One of the firsts to conduct experiments and analyze how people perceived and responded to images, words, and other stimulus in an attempt to understand how brain activity could connect with marketing and penetrate the mind by metaphor was Gerald Zaltman. In 2002, Zaltman charged a hefty $75,000 for his services that only well-established companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle, and Ford could afford.

With every behavior triggered by a stimulus by design today, it’s become increasingly important for marketers to equip themselves with an arsenal of neuroscientific tools and principles that will enable them to build engaging products and services.

Why do you distinctly associate Coca-Cola with the color red? The increasingly complex world no longer accepts clever marketing as the reasoning anymore. What you’re after is an understanding of the effective influence of recognition and memory to emotion, memory, and senses and ultimately, marketing. Neuromarketing is at play.

Neuromarketing is at play when you enter the grocery and buy a product - whether you have a list or not.

Neuromarketing is at play when you go online to shop, and you’re all of a sudden exposed to beautifully-designed websites with seamless user experiences as you add to cart items you look forward to receiving.  

Neuromarketing is at play when you are stuck in the middle of traffic and find yourself setting your sight on different billboards, listening to the radio, and listening to your favorite playlist.

From leveraging word of mouth in Pompeii, to celebrating the glory of signages in England to the birth of the creative world in New York and rise of the pay-per-click model in the Internet World, the beginning of neuromarketing has just begun. As the human continue to consume, there is no stopping what behaviors, actions, and emotions marketers can and should design for.

Feed Your Brain

15Center founders Matt Johnson, PhD and Prince Ghuman are co-authors of Allure: The Neuroscience of Consumerism. To get early access, sign up here.

Together, they teach individuals and businesses how to ethically apply neuroscience to marketing via neuromarketing bootcamps to uncover consumer blind spots and help brands better engage with their customers. Get your ticket here.