Imagine visiting the new neighbourhood ice-cream parlour that offers a wide range of fresh flavours. To help the bewildered customer spoilt for choice, the attendant hands over a tiny bright pink spoon, an apparatus to wear and samples for tasting. Should it be the toasted coconut gelato or the carrot mango ice-cream? The tasting begins and when the lick clicks, the gadget quite literally lights up, somehow capturing the brain’s best response and helping the customer decide which flavour to buy.
This is an example of consumer neuroscience at work, the next level of science in action for consumers. It’s an application that enables decision making by manifesting one’s innermost, subconscious mind.
Where there are consumers trying to decide, there are advertisers trying to pitch in and this is a science that both sides can use.
“Consumer neuroscience helps measure the impact of emotional advertising by assessing metrics like attention, emotional engagement and memory activation,” global marketing research firm Nielsen said in a report.
From a product or service perspective, advertising is not the only beneficiary. The packaging of a product is a fertile area where neuroscience can help – right from what deciding what fonts to use to placement of information. Even the design of stores and their aisles can be suitably configured and reconfigured using neuroscience metrics. However, not all agree that consumer neuroscience is the ultimate concept when it comes to the creative aspect of advertising.
“I truly believe that nothing can replace our wisdom, our gut and our well-honed craft,” said Sonal Dabral, chairman of DDB Mudra Group, known for incorporating romanticism in his ads. “But neuro helps the clients and agencies land the message right by eliminating the negatives in the script.”
Still, neuroscience may emerge as a promising tool to help global companies bridge the gap with their Indian customers. As global entities set foot in India in increasing numbers, shifting operations and bases to the country, a parallel shift in research structures is missing. So, while the consumer is in India, the designs come from the western world and often lack Indian perspective, creating a mismatch.
To be sure, though, machines, multi-coloured lights and graphs cannot be relied upon blindly to decide the saleability of a product.
Food and beverage giant PepsiCo that has been in talks with several marketing research agencies in the last one year for the optimum use of the technique, credits consumer neuroscience for “giving taste a dimension and expression”.
“We were shown an ad of Kurkure that we had made, three times, and our responses were being tested using neuroscience. After the second round, we were told that the in that round, the ad had been shortened by 15 secs, and we did not even get to know! So, using neuroscience they shaved off portions of the ad that did not heighten our emotions and that is how it helped in the editing too,” Gaurav Mehta, senior director for insights and marketing services at PepsiCo, India, said, adding that it “removes biases from consumer responses”.
Relying solely on electric signals in India, with its multi-cultural underpinnings, can be inadequate.
“Consumer neuroscience can work as a tool for validation but not as a tool for creation. It has to be coupled with the cultural context, which the brand looks at associating with,” said Alpana Parida, MD of DY Works, a Mumbai-based brand strategy and design firm. “ITC had launched a black cigarette which had registered quite well on neuroscience but ultimately did not do well since it did not fit the cultural context of our country.”
As of now, the complete neuroscience toolkit includes an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure electrical brain activity, core biometric indicators such as heart rate and skin response, facial coding and eye tracking. While the EEG provides detailed, secondby-second diagnostics on the effectiveness of stimuli, biometrics measure the level of engagement and facial coding reveals the depth of expressed emotion, Nielsen said. This articulation, integrated with a combination of neuroscience tools, enhances predictability to almost 84%, it said.
“India has a near-negligible presence of consumer neuroscience experts. Neuroscience itself has very little research expertise in the country,” said Krishna Miyapuram, professor at the Centre for Cognitive Science, IIT Gandhinagar, who has done extensive research on the cognitive processes of learning and decision-making mechanisms in humans. “EEG is not an expensive equipment and can be acquired by companies, but neuroscience comes with its own paraphernalia and to adopt it in its entirety, you need neuroscientists, analysts to mine data.”
Though still nascent in India, consumer neuroscience is not a novel concept globally. A wave of consumer neuroscience emerged around 2011, when Nielsen acquired Neurofocus, then the global leader in neurological testing, for consumer research. Many startups came up and died down, but now globally, the situation has stabilised. In 2015, Nielsen acquired another consumer neuroscience research group, Innerscope, and went on to become world’s largest consumer neuroscience company.
This doesn’t mean that marketers will shy away from making use of some elements of neuroscience. Vitasta, the Indian marketing partner of Swedish company Tobii, a provider of eye-tracking solutions and services, has a list of clients that buy these devices, which come at an entry-level price of Rs 15 lakh.
The company also sells wearable devices that integrate the EEG and eye-tracking functions and are sold to both scientific institutes and commercial entities, ranging from FMCG companies and automobile makers to sports research institutes. The price for such devices varies between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 60 lakh.
The wonders of neuroscience have yet to be judged. Consumer neuroscience lays stress on emotions and their impact on decision-making, which in turn can provide insights into aspects such as how people buy products and services, brand loyalty, market testing and advertising strategy.