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.

  • Mar 4 2013: Manipulation makes the world go round kid. Without it we would still be living in mud huts, disorganized, unproductive anarchy would be the law of the land. We seek now to become more independent as societies but is this really a wholly achievable goal or should we simply be satisfied with the extremely high degree of awareness of these manipulations which we now possess? I tend to lean towards the latter. Society cannot function without some degree of manipulation. Currency itself serves a manipulative purpose in that we desire it because it can be converted into the goods and services which we need and desire. If you are indeed in marketing, I suggest you switch fields to philosophy since you seem to have a far greater interest in it.
    • Mar 4 2013: I agree with you, there will always be some sort of manipulation and that's fine. But it's worth trying to view the issue from other angles, i.e. philosophical. Marketing and philosophy are not mutually exclusive ;)
  • 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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    Mar 1 2013: Hi Steffie!
    Starting from the premise that being manipulative IS the essence of any marketing activity, an interesting point in your study might be a thought about what happens when the consumer is subject to a great number of overlaying sensorial stimuli. My opinion is that marketing and its applications are loosing ground because it became impossible for a brand to stand out form the mass of its competitors, all of them leveraging on the same, identical techniques. Much before manipulating a person, you need this person to notice you and today there are too many colours, pictures, perfumes, tactile effects and messages to think that visual/sensorial communication could actually work effectively.
    P.S. I work in an advertising agency and I never saw a psychologist hanging around, we know everything possible about where a shampoo should be placed on the shelf to attract the sight of the consumer, that's an old story.
  • Mar 6 2013: I think marketing should focus in the value of the product and educate the consumer. I'm so tired of the brain-wash marketing, I find that insulting to the point that I switch the channel or turn of the TV. I think we have to start switching from manipulation to awareness.
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    Mar 1 2013: A lot of marketing is manipulative to some degree.

    A well thought out campaign might deliberately push lots of psychological buttons to promote the desired action or behaviour.

    Attractive models or less attractive ones are used for a reason.

    MArketers are perhaps getting smarter at this manipulation.

    MArketing to children is perhaps the most questionable as they lack the much of the limited reasoning and filters adults have.

    In Australia poker machines are prevalent. Same tricks. Little bursts of endorphins, hypnotic displays and sounds.

    Potentially, I can imagine a point where it does go too far. But for the time being I think awareness and self discipline and appropriate regulation to minimise harm, and eternal vigilance to new tricks and technologies.
    • Mar 4 2013: Good point. Going back to the example of supermarkets, I think a lot is aimed at children (candy at children's eye level, receiving toys at the check-out, etc.) but I guess the parents are the ones with the decision making power, and if they are aware and disciplined it's not taking it too far.
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        Mar 13 2013: Tough being a parent when kids are calling out for whatever they saw advertised.
  • Feb 28 2013: There are courses in this.
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    Feb 27 2013: G'day Steffie

    Yes of course it's manipulative & has always been that way since someone had something to sell to others for a profit. Is it wrong to manipulate the populous to buy goods & services? I think that depends on how people are being psychologically manipulated.

    If we are being psychologically coaxed in paying for something we really don’t need &/or want & then yes it’s wrong but if it’s on goods & services we depend on then no.

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    • Feb 28 2013: If you look at the trend of companies being transparent and honest in their communications, and consumers expecting this from companies, leading consumers by sensory stimulation to appeal to their subconscious contradicts the transparency doesn't it? How can consumers then 'protect' themselves from these methods of persuasion?
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        Feb 28 2013: G’day Steffie

        Well you can’t unless one is aware of the marketing ploys being used at any given time or we start thinking for ourselves again which can block out a lot of these ploys subconsciously.

        The problem these days we don’t have to think for ourselves as it’s all laid on for us at a click of a button & the problem with that isn’t just because we don’t think for ourselves any more but what we are being programed to accept as a thought at a push of a button at times.

        For example take the news for instance, we click on a button to turn the TV on to watch the news, what’s usually on the news is sensationalism anything which is dramatic but so much more good is being done in the world that isn’t shown which makes us believe more bad is happening in the world. In other words by watching the news which is also marketed we are being basically brain washed that more bad is going on in the world than good. Believe it or not once we start thinking for ourselves again & become more aware the marketing ploys influence on us is drastically diminished.