Neuromarketing and neuroscience are not the same thing

Dalibor Šumiga Behavioral marketing/Neuromarketing, Marketing

Or at least they shouldn’t be…

There was a recent article which stirred up quite the fuss; in it, neuroscientist Jared Cooney Horvath came down hard on neuromarketing and experts who practise this type of marketing. The claims he made are completely at odds with practically everything neuroscience has given to mankind in the last few decades.

The response to his article came from three esteemed scientists and neuromarketing practitioners (Ramsoy, Dietvorst, Silberstein) who came out with concrete, rock solid arguments. However, the question remains; how is it possible that a man, a neuroscientist, goes so far in his “witch hunt” that he refutes even the assertions he must have learned during his education which have been irrefutably proven and replicated countless times?

If you read my blog “Truths and misconceptions about marketing”, a similar example was given in which an educated psychologist states: “There is no need for neuromarketing when we can simply ask people what they want.”. With that sentence alone she negates all of the work done by Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman or the splendid behavioral expert Dan Ariely, to name a few.
The simplest solutions is – scientists are also people, irrational, impulsive and subjective.


Why would neuroscientists even have something against neuromarketing? It’s not like they’re in the same branch, that they’re each other’s competition. In fact, with the popularization of neuroscience through neuromarketing, there’s a bigger chance institutes and universities will receive even more funding for research. Who better to promote your work than someone who does promotion for a living?! No one can promote you better than someone who’s in marketing!

From my experience, and I’ve been doing behavioral marketing for more than 13 years, the minority (which apparently includes dr Horvath) doesn’t like neuromarketing out of one of the following reasons:

01) they find that only scientists can pursue science

02) they find that neuromarketing discoveries are not universally applicable

First and foremost, the main purpose of science is the benefit of mankind as a whole, not just a select circle of few. Therefore, science should be accessible to everyone, everywhere. Yes, science is rigid and it demands the reverence of certain rules, but you cannot jump to conclusions about a whole business based on a few bad apples. As a matter of fact, if you are forming your opinion based on exceptions, you have broken one of the fundamental principles of science.

I am not a scientist, but I have invested large amounts of funds and working hours so my clients could have valid, scientifically proven and properly conducted methods of measuring the human subconscious.

On the other hand, I also had the opportunity of witnessing research conducted by scientists by title who used ridiculous samples (e.g. 25 people divided into 3 cells to test a market of 10 million people) and equipment that could be mistaken for toys (an EEG with one sensor on the forehead to analyse buyers in motion).

Another important fact – neuromarketing does not aspire to generalization; my goal is not to win a Nobel prize for discoveries in the field of marketing. My goal is to deliver a valid and useful insight to my client regarding the behavior of his or hers (potential) buyers on which their next marketing campaign will be based on and created.

Rory Sutherland brilliantly described what we strive for in neuromarketing with this sentence:

“I occasionally ask academics whether they have any interesting failed experiments we can use. You see if just 20% of people do something anomalous 10% of the time, that’s useless in academic papers but relevant to business.”


Science and marketing should go hand in hand because they help one another. What is needed is to change the perception that science is “boring” and the perception that marketing is simply a hoax.

The only way science would not be perceived as boring is if we promoted it in an understandable and interesting way.
The only way marketing would not be perceived as a hoax is if it measured its efficiency by using valid methods.

Yes, there will always be black sheep who will misuse one and the other, but they will always be the minority. As for everyone else who is in love with science, in love with marketing or in love with both, the best advice I can  give you is the one Richard Shotton gives in his book Choice Factory:

Be skeptical, not cynical.