They laughed when I said neuromarketing


by Dave Lloyd

To what degree does neuroscience affect content marketing? Here’s how neuromarketing insights can influence effective storytelling tactics and ultimately increase audience engagement.

Students of marketing will recognize the lead in the article title. For those not familiar, let me introduce you to one of the most successful ads of all times, launched in 1926 and still imitated today.


With the headline “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano, But When I Started to Play,” the ad tells the immensely relatable story of a young man who, unbeknownst to his friends, has taken piano lessons and surprises everyone with his expertise.

What the ad copywriter of Piano Lessons, John Caples, understood about human nature is still true today.

Developing your talents when no one believes in you can bring about powerful and positive emotions, whether you have learned to play a musical instrument, become a rocket scientist, or a data-driven marketer.

Powerful emotions are triggered through equally powerful stories – no matter if the stories are conveyed via 140 character-length Tweets or two-hour Hollywood movies.


Telling significant stories – those that may pull at the heart – is a central component of content marketing today. Understanding why some stories resonate and some fall flat involves something close to my heart: data.

Today we have the ability to understand the heart through the brain in the relatively new field of neuromarketing. So, let’s examine the basics.


Neuromarketing studies consumers’ sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective responses to marketing stimuli, utilizing scientific equipment such as the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, the electroencephalograph (EEG), as well as through steady state topography (SST).

In an interview with Forbes, Uma Karmarkar, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, with PhDs in both marketing and neuroscience, discussed the results of research performed at Emory University.

“In a seminal lab experiment, teenagers listened to a series of new, relatively unknown songs while lying inside an fMRI machine. The researchers found that the activity within the adolescents’ pleasure centers correlated with whether a song achieved eventual commercial success,” Dr. Karmarkar said.

She does note that there are complexities and caveats when marketing to a global audience due to cultural differences.

Dr. Karmarkar explains, “Happiness in some Eastern cultures is expressed as a sense of calm or peace, whereas in some Western cultures, happiness means jumping around with joy and excitement. So you might get two totally different fMRI results that actually mean the same thing – or you may have two totally different stimuli create the desired effect of profound happiness, but for different reasons.”

No field is without controversy. There are those who wonder to what extent marketers could manipulate consumers’ brain.


According to Dr. Karmarkar, “The research is more about understanding brain waves, not controlling them. […] Sex sells – it has since the dawn of time. It sells because it engages that pleasurable reward center of your brain. As academics, neuroscience just helps us to understand how.”

One modern outcome of neuromarketing is viral sharing, based on the proliferation of memes.


Arguably, the success of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is based on the ease by which users can share ideas, stories, and photos that have an emotional impact.

So why do we like stories?

Entrepreneur reports, “fMRI analysis shows that when our brains engage in a story, it behaves more like a participant than a spectator. A story is the bridge between getting and keeping someone’s attention.”


Think about your favorite movies or television shows – are you unconsciously involved in the story being told, feeling more like a participant than a viewer? The fMRI machine permits researchers to observe which parts of the brain are activated when stories are read. Gathering and interpreting the data leads to the ability to make evidence based or data-driven decisions.

In conclusion

We can now see how so many facets of marketing interrelate with each other. Through biometrics, neuroscience can measure the reaction to stories and content, and it is fundamental to obtaining visibility of content in all forms – from websites, to landing pages, videos, and images.

Understanding neuromarketing can help inspire the desired reaction in your audience. To tell more engaging stories, from lighthearted to the seriously scientific, strive to develop content that resonates with user’s emotions and unconscious aspirations.