Neuromarketing & ethics: the grey area of influence

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The rise in popularity of neuromarketing has sparked growing skepticism. People are starting to question if we’re being collectively manipulated into continuous consumption. Are our decisions to buy still truly our own?

Disclaimer: Let’s be clear! Neuromarketing isn’t as shady as some think! Ethical and impactful influence can coexist harmoniously. In this blog, I’ll delve deeper into this topic, addressing the question: Is neuromarketing manipulation?

1. What is neuromarketing?

First things first: defining the term!

There is still much debate over the exact definition of neuromarketing. Originally, neuromarketing is the application of neuroscience (neuroimaging techniques) to analyze and understand consumer behavior. Neuromarketing is considered a research tool in this context.

Today, the term ‘neuromarketing’ is also used when referring to the application of insights from both neuroscience and psychology to improve marketing efforts. Neuromarketing is seen as a marketing tool in this context.

Although – in our opinion – a neuromarketing agency is not truly a neuromarketing agency if they cannot utilize all of these neuroimaging techniques, it is also necessary for the insights found to be applicable in practice. A good agency can therefore achieve both.

2. Is neuromarketing ethical?

This question ignites heated debates. Let me clarify why:

Companies employ neuromarketing to gain deeper insights into their customers’ needs and desires, enabling them to tailor marketing strategies accordingly. Ultimately, this benefits you as a consumer. Let’s be honest, you’ll encounter ads and commercials regardless. Wouldn’t you prefer ones that resonate with you?

However, the use of neuromarketing raises concerns about privacy and transparency, as well as the extent of influence exerted. Contrary to some beliefs, our autonomy in decision-making remains intact. I’ll delve into this further shortly.

I firmly believe that neuromarketing and ethical standards can coexist. As I mentioned earlier, ethical and impactful influencing is not only achievable but crucial. It’s vital to draw ethical boundaries, such as refraining from targeting minors or endorsing political agendas, as we do at Neurofactor.

Establishing such boundaries through an ethical code is imperative in this industry. It ensures ethical considerations are at the forefront, fostering transparency regarding the projects undertaken or declined.

Considering collaborating with a neuromarketing agency soon? Take a moment to peruse their website for an ethical code, or simply inquire about it. It’s a quick way to gauge if your values align!

3. Does neuromarketing manipulate consumer?

No, absolutely not!

The term ‘manipulation’ suggests that as a consumer, you are forced to buy a product or that you have no freedom of choice. That’s nonsense, of course!

As a consumer, you always have the freedom to choose which products or services you buy. Neuromarketing simply ensures that you are truly happy with your purchases because they align with your needs.

4. When does seduction turn into deception?

Influencing consumers to purchase a product or service has been a practice for centuries, laying the groundwork for the marketing profession. Naturally, marketers aim to boost sales – a fundamental aspect of their role.

Questions surrounding what’s permissible and where the line is drawn for marketers and entrepreneurs have long been debated, existing within a gray area. However, the notion of influencing predates the emergence of neuromarketing. Thus, the query of when persuasion transitions into deceit is distinct from discussions on neuromarketing.

In my view, deception occurs when:

      • Claims are fabricated;
      • Crucial information is withheld from consumers;
      • Transparency is lacking.

5. Are there guidelines for ethical neuromarketing?

There are no fixed guidelines governing neuromarketing ethics, but many agencies establish their own boundaries through an ethical code. Within this code, they outline their areas of involvement and avoidance, such as campaigns for addictive substances.

An ethical code not only compels a neuromarketing company to consider ethical implications but also allows you to assess alignment with your values. It provides clarity on your standing as a potential partner.

Often, you can locate an ethical code directly on the agency’s website.

If an agency lacks an ethical code, it prompts questioning whether collaboration is prudent. Unless, of course, you’re peddling an unethical product or service… Then they might pique your interest after all 😉


Neuromarketing and ethics can certainly go hand in hand, provided that neuromarketing agencies are transparent about which projects they do or do not accept. Ideally, they establish their boundaries in an ethical code that is accessible to everyone. This immediately obliges them to consider ethical considerations.

<a href="" target="_self">Melissa van Eerden</a>

Melissa van Eerden

As a Consumer Psychology Expert at Neurofactor, Melissa know how buying decisions are made, which help you craft your marketing strategies and grow your (online) business. You can ask her any questions on behavior change and choice architecture.