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Intern - Marketing/Sales, trnd Benelux

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Is sensory marketing considered manipulative by appealing to subconscious senses?

As part of my thesis, I am looking to find out to what extent persuading and influencing consumers in their consumption by appealing to (subconscious) senses is considered manipulative.

It is well known that people use, and are influenced by their senses all of the time, whether conscious or subconscious. In order to influence consumers in their decision making process marketers are using this knowledge to persuade or elicit certain emotions in consumers.

To exemplify, think of your supermarket. Sensory marketing efforts are thrown your way as soon as you step in to the supermarket. The smell of fresh homemade bread, use of color throughout the store, and not to forget the effect that food samples and background music has on shopping behavior?
Then, can you still say that the purchase decision ultimately lies with the consumer, or are consumers more (subconsciously) led by marketing and advertising efforts than they realize?

Do you think marketers are manipulating consumers? Or is all fair in love and war (on consumerism)?

As part of my research, I would love to get your thoughts and ideas on the topic. Your feedback is much appreciated.


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  • Mar 3 2013: @Mathew & Martha: I think people today are much more aware of marketing ploys than 10 years ago, which, from a consumer perspective, I think is healthy and a step towards thinking for ourselves again. This, and the overkill of advertisments, is exactly why sensory marketing is becoming more important; people don't realise that marketing reaches out to more subtle ways to 'pull' the consumers, as opposed to the noisy 'push' marketing which is not very hard to miss. You could say that the noisy 'push' marketing is a more open in ways of manipulating consumers (because, as we established, marketing is manipulative. Period.) because it is more tangible. Smell, sound, and taste are way more intangible, and therefore manipulative on a much deeper level.

    I think this is not per definition wrong, e.g. we go to an espresso bar not only for the coffee, but also for the experience, and the smell of roasted coffee beans is a part of that. But it is our choice to go to that espresso bar, and thus be confronted with this bit of sensory marketing. There are many situation in which consumers don't control when they are hit by sensory marketing, and this is where I think it becomes a more ethical issue.

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