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Your Brain on Marketing

Brain on Marketing dopamine

Tis the season for advertising that tugs on our heartstrings.  I’ll admit – I’m the first to get weepy over a great commercial.  This holiday my favorite is Ikea’s “The Other Letter.” In a world full of marketing manufactured emotion, this is the real deal.

But what’s fascinating to me as a marketer is the science behind the why (also known as neuromarketing). It turns out the “why” is linked to our brain chemistry and the release of a key neurochemical – dopamine.  While dopamine plays many different roles in the brain, it’s the release of dopamine neurons that results in a pleasurable feeling or “high.” The so-called “celebrity” of neurotransmitters, dopamine is love, lust, addiction, motivation and so much more.

A perfect example is the iconic “Priceless” ad campaign by Mastercard that launched in 1997 and has been sustained over three CMOs and nearly two decades. The original ad went something like this: “Two tickets: $46. Two hot dogs, two popcorns, two sodas: $27. One autographed baseball: $50. Real conversation with 11-year old son:  priceless.”

One of the many reasons this ad works is because an expectation is set up through the deliberate repetition of the phrases containing the itemized costs. Then when you don’t expect it, they throw out the curveball – a zinger right to the heart.

You set up one expectation, and then present the reward event in an unexpected way. Can you feel the dopamine rush? I bet Mastercard did when they started experiencing double-digit growth after the campaign aired!

Another great example is continuity programs. The most successful subscription services (check out our feature on Fabletics!) benefit from the element of surprise and delight when a customer receives something new each month in the mail. Even more so when there is an unexpected freebie included in there, too.  If it was the exact same shipment every time, the thrill would soon be gone.

Photo: Birchbox shows variety of monthly offerings
Photo: The product variety of Birchbox’s monthly subscription offerings

With the growth and constant availability of technology and social media, opportunities to utilize neuromarketing are more prevalent than ever before.  For example, social media takes full advantage of our need for human connection.  Anyone on Facebook has experienced the rush that follows getting “likes” on a post!

So when it comes to ad words, remember to build up anticipation to a reward (a great discount, freebie, etc) along with a little uncertainty (a limited time offer or a limited quantity).  Just think of all of those Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails – did you buy something as a result?  I sure did!  The right mix of anticipation combined with a bit of mystery  will lead to higher conversion rates because when dopamine spikes, we become motivated to act (and buy!).

As marketers, we want to our customers to get hooked on our brand in the best possible way.  So for your next campaign, ask yourself if you are factoring in the effects of good old biology.  Are you working with it or against it?

P.S.  Want to experience a dopamine rush?  Check out our profile on Sprinkles cupcakes, then go the nearest Sprinkles store or ATM and get ready for a cupcake high!





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