Are Marketing Experts Reading Our Minds? – eKapija Investigates: What Neuromarketing Is and How Much It Is Used in Serbia

Source: eKapija Monday, 11.03.2024. 14:37
Illustration (Photo: Rasulov/
Have you ever cried to a commercial? Or has it ever happened to you that, while watching advertisements, you can just smell grandma’s soup, feel the softness of your favorite blanket on an old couch, or go back to your childhood? If so, it means that the marketing experts have done their job well. Commercials are truly becoming increasingly sophisticated and complex, and one of the reasons could be neuromarketing, a relatively new marketing strategy which combines knowledge from the fields of neuroscience and cognitive sciences. Neuromarketing is one of the approaches to marketing that use findings about human behavior and emotions, in order to better understand the consumers and use those findings to improve marketing strategies. It studies how people react to ads, brands, or certain products, experts in this field explain for eKapija.

– Neuromarketing is the application of the principles of neuroscience to the end of understanding the behavior of the consumers. That entails the use of modern brain activity imaging technologies, the following of eye movements and biometry, in order to understand the subconscious response of the person to various marketing stimuli – explains Marija Jovic, a professor at the Faculty of Organizational Sciences, who has been teaching the Neuromarketing course at this faculty for two years now. Neuromarketing has been studied at this faculty for over 10 years.

She also adds that the practice so far has confirmed over and over again the position of the famous David Ogilvy, who said that “people don't think what they feel, don't say what they think and don't do what they say” and that they don’t so on purpose, but because the subconscious dominates most of our decision-making.

– People are not capable of decoding their subconscious, so the methods of traditional surveying of consumer behavior are unreliable to a great extent. By implementing modern methods of measuring certain physiological activities, we can detect which elements of a product or communication people will react to positively – the professor says.

In Serbia, there are also agencies which offer services related to neuromarketing.

Dalibor Sumiga is the founder and CEO of the digital agency Promosapiens, which specializes in behavioral marketing, customer marketing, behavioral design and neuromarketing, and Jelena Stevanovic is the long-standing Country Leader of this agency in Serbia.

– Neuromarketing is a branch of marketing which is based on measuring subconscious reactions. So, on reactions which you cannot influence consciously. It is applicable in all fields, because it is based on understanding human behavior. From social issues, to which chocolate or car you will choose, the human subconscious plays a key role, and consequently, so does neuromarketing – says Sumiga.

They launched their business in the midst of the pandemic, in the spring of 2020.

– Best of all, we launched the project at the moment we heard that an agency which had been trying to sell neuromarketing services in Serbia until then had failed. We brought valid measurements and top equipment and expertise to the market. Before 2020, there were occasional surveys in Serbia, but there was a lot of fraud and meddling with the data there. That’s not our style, so we in a way waited for that bad business practice to clear out. Unfortunately, I can’t name the clients, because most of them are in the commercial sector and it is not in their interest for the competition to know what they’ve done. Using neuromarketing tools and practices is also an important part of strategic planning competition. Knowing ahead something that the competition doesn’t know about the customer’s subconscious behavior is a large business advantage, especially since, in our testing, we most often also do parallel tests of our client’s product and the competition’s product – says Sumiga.

Sumiga says that the most important advantage of neuromarketing is precision.

– In the business world, a wrong decision can cost you millions and that is why you can’t afford the luxury of relying on the luck factor or guessing what the customers really like. Another advantage is that it literally measures everything that has to do with human behavior and perception – how you like an ad, online content, a person, a piece of clothing, a car, a perfume scent, how food tastes, and even a political message – says Sumiga.

Nemanja Nedeljkovic, Senior Account Manager at the agency Digitizer, explains that neuromarketing can be applied in nearly any industry where it’s important to understand and influence the consumers’ behavior through emotional factors.

– It especially stands out in the fields of advertising, branding, design (products, packaging, web pages, e-commerce), as well as in setting the prices of services/products and during the shopping process. It is the most useful for consumer products or goods – says Nedeljkovic.

Illustration (Photo: oriontrail/

Effective, but expensive?

As the biggest challenge of neuromarketing, our interviewees cite the price.

– The price is mentioned the most often, although we have tried to bring neuromarketing closer to the conditions in our region in terms of prices – says Sumiga.

Nedeljkovic emphasizes that it is necessary to pay special attention to the complexity of the whole process, and he agrees that the price can be a limiting factor as well.

– Considering that the methods of collecting information include various measuring technologies, such as the following of eye movements, the measuring of the pulse and the breathing rhythm, the main flaw is the very complexity of the process. Neuromedical data require complex interpretation. It is difficult to establish a clear link between the subject’s responses and certain marketing signals, and the results can be open to various interpretations. The technology and the equipment needed for carrying out such surveys are expensive, which is a big financial challenge for medium and small companies. These surveys are often carried out in laboratory conditions and it is debatable how applicable they are to actual real-time situations – says Nedeljkovic.

Marija Jovic also believes that the costs are the biggest challenge.

– I would say that there are no flaws in neuromarketing, but there are challenges which mostly pertain to the costs of carrying out neuromarketing surveys. The technology is expensive and it is constantly upgraded, so serious investments in the equipment and the knowledge of the experts who carry out those surveys are needed. Certainly, these investments are often negligible compared to the potential costs of business mistakes – says Jovic.

Should we fear neuromarketing?

There are numerous debates regarding ethical dilemmas, professor Jovic explains and adds that each innovative idea and technology was initially resisted by people.

– Here, companies are expected to direct neuromarketing, as well as other business activities at the interests of the consumers, that is, at creating products which will be more useful and attractive to them than the competition’s products and promotional campaigns which will be more interesting and attractive. Certainly, experience tells us that we can’t always count on companies being ethical, so it’s necessary to create a matching legal framework, in order to protect the consumers’ interests – says Jovic.

Nedeljkovic agrees that there are ethical dilemmas and adds that it is therefore important to emphasize the transparency of the whole process.

– If companies use in-depth understanding of the consumers’ reactions, there can be a manipulation of emotions. Neuromarketing can identify which kinds of marketing signals cause certain emotions (the use of certain colors, tones of voice). In consumers, this can cause reactions such as fear, compassion, joy… If these techniques are used to lead consumers to make decision they otherwise wouldn’t, it can cause ethical dilemmas. The key is to implement neuromarketing responsibly, in compliance with ethical standards. Instead of fear, it is important to emphasize the transparency of the whole process – he says.

There is no room for fear and manipulation, Sumiga agrees.

Stories about mind reading and human brain manipulation are sheer nonsense. Neuromarketing only measures what is already happening in the person’s head. It cannot affect those processes. It is necessary to understand that, if you don’t like a certain product, nothing in the world will make you buy it. If neuromarketing could manipulate people, I believe that parents would use it before everybody else to make their children love school and start eating broccoli – says Sumiga.

Illustration (Photo: Altmann)Illustration

Neuromarketing exists in Serbia too

Neuromarketing is not a foreign concept in the business world in Serbia and companies which want to run their business wisely and understand the needs of their clients/customers use it regularly, says Dalibor Sumiga, the CEO of the agency Promosapiens.

Nemanja Nedeljkovic of Digitizer also believes that certain neuromarketing processes are present in Serbia too, but adds that the percentage is lower than in the USA and West Europe.

– Surveys themselves are expensive here, so only a large number of large companies and a small number of medium companies can follow them. Certain marketing companies in Serbia started implementing this method in 2015. They used the methods of EEG brain imaging and following eye movements with the aim of measuring the consumers’ unconscious reactions to various TV ads and brands. Large companies and global brands which operate in Serbia use neuromarketing methods to a certain extent. Also, a wide application of neuromarketing in marketing campaigns, which are emotionally harmonized with important dates, holidays, or events, is noticeable – says Nedeljkovic.

Professor Jovic believes that neuromarketing is more present in science than in practice. At the Faculty of Organizational Sciences, she says, neuromarketing has been studied for over 10 years, and since two years ago, there has been the Neuromarketing course within the master studies, which has been completed by over 100 students so far.

– When it comes to companies, several smaller, but very interesting neuromarketing surveys have been done. However, companies are still not familiar enough with the possibilities of neuromarketing and don’t have the necessary capacities for implementation in their business operations. Of course, I am sure that this will change considerably with time – our interviewee concludes.

Ivana Zikic

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