On Suppliers of New Desires, Neuromarketing and Jewelry

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“Desire and its object are one and the same thing: the machine, as a machine of a machine. Desire is a machine, and the object of desire is another machine connected to it.” “Everything is production, since the recording processes are immediately consumed, immediately consummated, and these consumptions directly reproduced.”

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “Anti Oedipus”

(1.) Intro

Nowadays, in this era of hyper-consumerism and accelerated production, lifestyle is defined by the wish to own luxury goods. Thinking about neo-consumerism as an ideology and order that is created by human desires, in turn, poses a question about the relationship between people and personal objects. Do we still have dominion over ob- jects-products or rather they over us? Are we able to control our desires? Where does this capitalistic libido come from, and who or what is responsible for raising its level? If it is a machine of commodification, how its effect can be measured?

Every desire needs to be realized; thus every desire drives to create a self-propel-ling consumerism machine. Material goods can give psychological pleasure and a feeling of completeness, add self-assurance or affect social success. Because of these effects, the state of “ownership” becomes addictive and subsequently an actual, acquired necessity. The manifold process of mass production, through the production of new desires, drives us to lose control over object-products.

It would be impossible not to mention reality’s romance with the great internet machine. Over the past decade or so, we have watched the realization of a revolution
in consumerism. E-commerce has not just changed the way we buy; it has changed something integral about the way we communicate. On Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, brands are now discussed and dissected; companies’ stories are subverted and inverted. Wizard media companies view social media not as a competing medium but as an extended medium of their empire.

The existence of the internet in our life has created game-changing like bite and clickbait currencies. According to recent studies1, large numbers of “likes” activate pleasure centers in the brain circuits of the members of generation Z and most millennials. Liking/disliking has become a completely new way of expressing approbation or reprobation, displaying virtual empathy, and has empowered the quantity and speed of content production over quality, driving our new behaviors, and thus new desires.

The lack of terms in the language to denominate and frame these systems, relationships, and consumerism organs has led to the creation of the effected phrase “comfort product.” This phrase aims to explain objects-products that, through ownership, consistently provide satisfaction (in other words, products that, similarly to “comfort food,” people turn to in order to feel emotions associated with contentment). At the same time, comfort products produce desire through their existence and even their “names” (would we ever associate valuable/personal products with pleasure if they did not have this status in culture?), and the fear of not fulfilling these needs causes mental anxiety, for example, of social exclusion. This constantly repeating cycle (we desire, we produce, we consume to desire more, produce more, and consume more –the capitalistic ouroboros) is a hoax from many perspectives.

In searching for the origins of the above-mentioned social, psychological, and even moral shifts, we have to consider the immerse force of marketing on our daily life and especially the tools of marketing—the modern, powerful, and evil machine of consumerism— that reveal the process behind generating capitalism’s desire: neuromarketing.

(2.) Quintessence of Neuromarketing

Neuromarketing is a devilish mechanism. By using the fusion of neuroscience and marketing for the sake of advertising, it reduces human beings to nothing more than natural systems to hack. The goal of neuromarketing is to hit subconscious thinking, inculcate new desires in the brain, control further behavior and finally push society to buy products automatically.

Many disciplines are embodied in neuromarketing; for example, electrophysiology, neurophysiology, behavioral biology, neurology, and cognitive neuropsychology all have a place. The main goal is to understand consumers’ emotions and to find a way to affect their ”primary thinking process,” which in advertising terms is called ”selective perception”.

Daniel Kahneman’s popular theory of dual processes in the human mentality divides the characteristics of the brain into two systems: one is a continuous stream of thoughts below awareness, fast multithreaded, automatic and uncontrolled and one is conscious, deliberate mental ”work” – planning, analyzing and rehearsing; slow, single-threaded, deliberate and controlled. The first one works without effort, is emotion-driven, and is the first responder. In fact, because of the first system, we are in effect contrivances that make decisions instinctively, intuitively, and emotionally 95% of the time, in order to minimize mental exertion or maximize pleasure. The brain activates the rule-based second system only when it must.

According to Freud’s theory, the psyche is divided into the conscious mind, which is further divided into the ”reality principle” (Ego), moral imperatives (Superego) and the unconscious mind, called the id, which incorporates the ”pleasure principle.” The ego always wants to be rational. Freud would add that we attempt to find the balance between the desire of hedonism covered by the id and the vision of ourselves hidden in the moralism of the super-ego. Nevertheless, both the ego and the “first responder” mentioned above reflected most directly in our actions. Actually, the rest is only our human rationalizing of unconscious desires.

Briefly, neuromarketing is the use of the tools from Kahneman’s and Freud’s theories to refine and control buyer behavior. It does not reveal anything, by-passing what little conscious thought the brain actually has. Neuromarketing rather undertakes the mechanism of our understanding the reality (with fundamentals of Kahneman’s the- sis) in order to create a new desire and implant its power to consumers’ (according to Freud’s concept) “pleasure principle” and Superego centers in the brain.

By influencing our primary intuitions, emotions, and aesthetic preferences, neuro-marketing tactics remake us. In the digital era, we are constantly being analyzed, judged, and factored in. Every second, we are part of somebody’s statistic and counting our own. We feel attached to our screens and decoupled from our real identities. Do we own our personalities or we are only shaped by a daily portion of social media feed? Neuromarketing seems to be a wizard in that play by creating commercial scenarios, supported by a solid base of knowledge about the brain’s systems, it changes our primary preferences. It does so in real-time, because of the speed of the internet machine and big data loops.

(2.1) The Emotional Game Strong & Seek Pleasure

Neuroscience tells us that emotions are the most powerful drivers of consumer decision-making. Multiple choices are non-continuous and only emotion-based. Thus, the ability to harness, analyzes, and act on consumers’ moods and real-time passion points is game-changing. It is impossible to tune society to a particular mood with a particular factor and at a particular time. The influence of weather, the food we eat, the amount of sleep, interactions with other people, etc. all affect our daily moods. Negative proportions of those factors can cause us to use non-intellectual reasoning and make irrational choices. And even if people know what they feel they usually don’t know why.

Some generalizations have been made based on numerous studies in the context of consumers’ actions. Three factors are central to harnessing emotions in real-time: dopamine, data, and technology. Dopamine stimulates a consumer’s heightened emotional state of desire. Data are social sharing measures: what, when, and how consumers share the things that really matter to them. Technology is real-time media delivery, and ability to activate advertising in real-time—the exact moment we show emotional state and passion points.

The research of Dr. Peter Steidl, the co-founder of the company “Neurothinking,” looks at what consumers feel at the time of sharing and receiving content of interest, and then, what drives them to engage with the information that is shared and received. He and Kerry McCabe, the director at the online advertising company “RadiumOne,” explain the central factors in a wider context: “Neuroscience research says social sharing activates the rewards system of the brain, triggering dopamine releases similarto those we get from sex, food and exercise. Dopamine is the ‘feel-good transmitter’. Whenever we achieve something, the brain rewards us with a pleasurable dopamine.

release. The important word here is ‘seek.’ Dopamine does not make us feel happy. It pushes us to seek happiness. We know consumers go through these phases when they share online. They experience a dopamine release which makes them feel good. Not long afterward, they feel a desire for another dopamine hit This makes them more receptive to any proposition they hope might deliver a dopamine release, and if the creative message delivered is aligned with the content they shared earlier, we know they’re more open to our offer than consumers who have not shared relevant content in the first place. (…) The objective of our neuromarketing research has been to demonstrate that there’s a direct relationship between content being shared, impressions being served, and direct sales. In this context speed is critical and timing is everything. We now know when consumers will be most responsive to an offer because they are in the prime emotional state of experiencing a dopamine release. (…) Analyzing and activating live social sharing insights is as close to marketing utopia as we’ve ever been. As brands unlock the value of sharing, they can now effectively reach the right person at the right time in the right place—with the right message.”

What can be gleaned about humans from Freud’s theory and Deleuze’s story-telling is that the structure of our desire is not actually (one) structure. Therefore, “schizoanalysis” is based on the intuition that one seeks the machine of desires and is not about divulging the internal structure of man. That is why we all take part in the gameplay scenario where prizewinners already have unfettered access only to the well-worked vision of human nature. Thus, the trick is to reveal how the machine of desires works, how it is driven by the cultural and capitalistic markets, who are the dealers that use these certain forces, and how these forces may attract our first responder of the dopamine system.

In the matter of controlling emotions, neuromarketing has also strong associations with psychology. It uses general rules that have been created as a behavior base. For example, one of them says that when people feel upset, they care less about improving themselves or reaching meaningful, long-term goals. The more sad we are, the more attractive risk-high options seem (according to Raghunathan and Pham). Another fundamental formula is that sad people perceive the high-risk-high-payoff option as more attractive, whereas anxious people prefer the low-risk-low-payoff alternative that is safer (also, according to Raghunathan and Pham). Individuals in an angry mood are more inclined to preserve the status quo, and they are less likely to see the advantages or benefits of a new product or service. Individuals are likely to evaluate any target more positively when they are happy rather than in a sad mood (Schwarz 2000). For example, a practical implication in marketing is to offer new product samples to vacationers in order to create a mental association between the product and having fun. Significantly, people who are more aware of their bodily responses, for example, their heartbeat, as they see emotionally arousing pictures do experience more intense feelings as measured through self-assessment.

(2.2) Visual Neuroscience and Manipulation

Good visuals disrupt attention and/or are firmly remembered. The shifting habits of technology and social media users took visual culture to the next level. Almost each of us is a producer of image content. The contemporary picture economy gave birth to a new term in our language—the visual social media era. This shift changed our perception so that we are much more susceptible to visual stimulation. The picture is usually faster and contains more dynamic information—it is far easier to let it exchange in digital cycles. Thus, images are highly important nowadays for neuromarketing. The ever-growing knowledge of the human visual system is supported by continuous research into visual neuroscience and visual stimuli.

The human visual system is controlled voluntarily or automatically. These automatic reactions are thanks to unconscious visual pathways reacting to salient stimuli that require a much faster response time. We know that we do not give the same attention to all objects in the visual field, nor are they processed independently. If two stimuli are presented simultaneously, they create a certain neuronal reaction that is lower than if they had been presented separately. Thus, if the image shows one element, the brain recognizes it quickly, and it is easier to imprint the image in our memory. In specialized language, this is called mutual reduction, an example of competitive suppression.

In terms of objects shown in context, as in reality they never occur in isolation, we react much more deftly when they are shown in a neutral environment. These contexts can be divided into groups: semantic (for example a bouquet of flowers and vase are probably present in the same images), spatial configuration (for example a necklace is expected to be on the neck), and pose (for example chairs are oriented towards the table). Recent work in cognitive psychology and computer vision has shown that a statistical summary of the elements that comprise the scene can provide an extremely effective source of information for contextual inference. Growing research on the mechanisms underlying contextual inference and scene recognition and its neural correlates begins to address questions about how powerful are the real-world relationships between objects and to what extent the power of contextual information to predict the identity of an object.

New studies show that areas of the brain correlated with visual attention will be active whether or not a subject is visually attending to information and regardless of what times their attention peaks. That last part is interesting, as it will lead to insights in attention that are beyond our conscious control. This particular lack of control allows marketers to present campaigns that manipulate our attention in various ways, whether it be through distraction from a realistic view of the product or creating a way of increasing our focus to make it easier to recall our malleable attention.

(3.) A Perfect Example of a Desired Personal Object

Jewelry is the quintessential object of desire, and it is the perfect lens through which to view contemporary human metaneeds. Metaneeds are, according to Maslow’s theory, involved in self-actualization and constitute the highest level of needs, coming into play primarily after the lower-level needs have been met. Some of those described are the need for beauty, knowledge, and creativity.

Even if there are countless functions of jewelry2, there is no doubt that the leading function is to embellish appearance. From a practical standpoint, a piece of jewelry is an unnecessary object on the human body. The first fragment from a piece of the jewelry piece has been dated to around 75,000 years ago, suggesting that making and wearing jewelry has been a natural and important way to fulfill human metaneeds for many generations.

What is more, jewelry always has been popularized in culture as being a unique object. Since ancient times, jewelry has been used to denote love, matrimonial status, family membership (a signet ring for example), religious beliefs, and wealth. It is also likely that from an early date jewelry has been worn as protection from the dangers of life.

Jewelry is presented best on the human body, and the places chosen to do so are easy to view by others. Human mentality is self-centered by nature, so fact that these pieces are not hidden is an advantage. The relation between the body and specially designed pieces for jewelry makes jewelry even more attractive than normal objects. The term “small-scale sculpture activated by the body” was not created by accident.

(3.2) Neuromarketing Applied to Jewelry

Advertising jewelry multiplies the desire for it. Promoting personal objects that are associated with the fascination with its existence creates a special fantasy. After looking through photographs of jewelry, 3D rendered images, and advertorials, the following observation can be made: jewelry is predominantly shown in a non-realistic or pedantic-clear context.

Bright and shiny objects often grab people’s attention. As a result, photographs of precious metals and glossy gemstones are always eye-catching. That explains why so many jewelry advertisements are one-element stills without any additional elements. The rule “less is more” works utterly well—images of pieces of jewelry are usually visually strong enough to be quickly processed and memorized by the brain. As mentioned before (2.2.) these are rules that are generally used in image-making by neuromarketers. In terms of branding of luxury jewelry, they explain the tactics used by the strongest brands of accessories.

Another motive for minimalism in jewelry advertisements is that luxury does not have elite status anymore. After all, real exclusivity—selling highly select items to a limited audience—offers limited opportunity for scale and business growth. Jewelry producers aim to sell to different buyers and to create a balance between exclusivity and visibility without cheapening the brand image. Highly desirable products at different price levels are usually shown in the same advertisement (in Tiffany’s commercials, one can mainly see low-cost and expensive items of the same design, and none is pictured in an extravagant way3.)

(4.) Outro

The dream of capitalism is to constantly rekindle consumers’ desires with commercials. At the same time, addicting society to obtaining new commodities is also at stake. How can we become impervious to these strategies? Would awareness of all of the modern constructions and tools of neuromarketing help us to avoid becoming slaves of capitalism? In the alternative, if we are all already trapped in the commodification system, how can we see beyond it?

If there is one desire that seeks realization, it is surely one that also needs to be recognized by others. Almost every philosophical thought begins with platonic idealism, from the medieval era dominated by Christian ideology to the end of the 20th century powered by the internet and information-based society. This fundamental thought can be seen as one of the most important ”machines of desire.”It produces a never-ending battle of self-awareness simultaneously with and against social recognition. In other words, it is equally important to designate a specific normative status seen by others as well as a personal one seen by ourselves. In the Hegelian master-slave dialectic, the self-consciousness of slavery is always paired with a vision of the master, and a master’s self-consciousness is built on things that are not allowed to the slave. Differences make the difference, and even if the manifestation has changed itself, the desire to declare the difference to-be-recognized will never be outdated. Thus, both: the empirically-proven psychological importance of “being someone” and the undiscovered sources of the social character of human beings, nowadays may have found their proclamation in consumerism. Jewelry, like a “comfort product” (mentioned at the beginning), easily consummates the needs for both, and self-established and social, exposure of ourselves.

Edward Bernays was one of the main architects of the notion of “tapping into human brains” (on the mass scale) with the idea that through products we “express” ourselves (obviously on behalf of advertising and selling commodities). In the first half of the 20th century, his methods aimed to make products appealing not to rationality, but to emotions. As he writes, “man’s desires must overshadow their needs” and “we are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.” Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, packed psycho-analysis and put it on the market. Doing so completely modified the way of designing campaigns and disrupted human primary intuitions. Through the years, his propaganda methods have been further developed by neuroscientific studies and resulted in the creation of neuromarketing.

Adam Curtis devoted one of his documentaries, “The Century of Self”, to the untold story of the growth of mass-consumer persuasion in western society, Freud’s legacy, and Edward Bernays. At the end of his work, Curtis states that „Although we feel we are free, in reality, we (…) have become the slaves of our own desires.”