Neuromarketing and impulse buying: are we the guineapigs of the fashion industry?

Neuromarketing definition
Neuromarketing is an attempt to reach our brain’s mechanisms.

Neuromarketing and impulse buying: are we the guineapigs of the fashion industry?

If you’re reading this, there is a strong chance that, like most people, you have made an impulsive purchase in your life. Probably even often. Something you weren’t planning on buying, but you left yourself being tempted. Was it a catchy design? Maybe the highly discounted price? Or was it because it was a very exclusive, but also very time limited offer?
Chances are, you’ve been a victim of neuromarketing techniques. Don’t worry, you’re not alone, and it’s curable. 

Remember our last blog articles (or social media video) Emotional obsolescence: losing faith in our clothes | Thuja (, we talked about emotional obsolescence. Well, neuromarketing and emotional obsolescence work hand by hand together. They’re two faces of the same coin.
You grow tired of your clothing faster, and neuromarketing is here to make you want to buy new things, faster too.

But what is really neuromarketing ?

Traditional marketing used to rely on census, opinion studies and questionnaires. How people were reacting to a product or an advertising campaign. But in science, there is often a gap between what people feel, and what people actually say. And human beings have biases. The environment, the circumstances, the education and history of a patient would greatly vary. And patients can be tempted to answer something more acceptable, or what the surveyor is expecting to hear, rather than their true opinion.

Neuromarketing, a concept developed by psychologists at Harvard University around 1990, loosely refers to the measurement of physiological and neural signals to gain insight into customers’ motivations, preferences, and decisions, which can help inform creative advertising, product development, pricing, and other marketing areas.(Neuromarketing: What You Need to Know (

With the development of neuroscience, and its technology, it became possible to measure human reactions and emotions at a very accurate level. With brain imagery, brain mapping, electroencephalography and body-response monitoring, scientists were able to understand how our brain and body react to a stimulus. While being developed mostly from a medical perspective, this new science was found to be very relevant to marketing.

Marketers would now accurately predict how a person would respond to their product, at a very unbiased and intimate emotional level. The goal is to bypass our rational brain, to target our emotions and subconscious reactions in order to predict and potentially even manipulate consumer behavior and decision making.

There are numerous examples of neuromarketing techniques that you probably encounter every day. Some of them are traditional sales techniques that were developed long before we knew about neuromarketing. Think about non-round prices for example. 9,99 $ instead of a round 10 $, one of the oldest tricks in the salesmen book. It’s called psychological pricing, like discounts, raffles, special displays, vouchers, gift cards, and volume discounts.
Non round prices is an example of psychological pricing.
Scarcity, that our brain tends to always avoid, is another powerful phenomenon for neuromarketing. That pushy salesman that tells you that it’s an incredible offer only available today because stocks are low, and if you don’t get it, your chance is gone. Thinks about limited offers, collections in very limited numbers. Luxurious handbags only produced by a 1000. It’s scarce and rare, but also tickles your sense of exclusivity, and status.

One of the most famous techniques is the decoy article. You might be unsure about buying a 1000 $ washing machine. Is it really a good value ? But presented alongside another article, more expensive, for similar features, all the sudden this 1000 $ washing machine really seems like a good deal. You’ve been presented with a decoy that gives you a false, or true, reference point.

Truly, there’s thousands of neuromarketing sales techniques designed to trick our emotions, sense of ego, basic emotional needs, in order to engage us with a product, positively react to it, and trigger the act of buying. It would be too long to describe them all. But we can look at the fast fashion industry and learn how they use the most advanced techniques to influence our minds.

To make us buy more clothes, at an astonishing rate, this industry relies on ephemeral trends. From marketing to social media influencers promoting hauls, we’re brainwashed into feeling dissatisfied with clothes that are still in perfectly good condition. The fast fashion industry has gotten so good at making their clothes go out of trend. That’s where neuromarketing comes in place: micro-collection, huge amounts of garment, IA and catered algorithms made to detect our deepest needs, ephemeral trends, express sales, free return, non-round prices, and thousands of new references every day.

The goal is to create and foster artificial needs. No one truly needs dozens and dozens of new pieces of clothing per year. Create a sense of constant instability, insecurity and need for approval that’s only quenched by a purchase. Maintaining their customers in a state of urgency to create impulse buying and shopping addictions.

I probably won’t need to remind you of all the terrible effects of fast fashion for our planet and people on it. From generating gigantic amounts of toxic waste and carbon emissions, to employing workers in inhuman conditions, abuses are at every level of the production chain.

Landfill of Unused Fast Fashion Clothes Has Grown Large Enough to Be Seen From Space – EcoWatch

Landfill in the Attacama desert in Chile. 















How do we stop this?

We can hope and push for regulations first. Regulating and limiting advertising. Limiting the number of articles added per day and regulate sales. Or the number of collections. Or even the quality of them. Some legislation has opened the way in New-York (New York Could Make History With a Fashion Sustainability Act – The New York Times (, Europe (Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation – European Commission ( or California (Regulating Fast Fashion Industries as the New Norm? – The Network (

But, if so far we feel like guinea pigs at the mercy of neuromarketers and big fashion brands, we have ways to resist.

  • Know about these techniques and how they work on you. If you can recognize them while they are at play, you will have a stronger chance to avoid being a victim of it. 
  • On a deeper level, working on our emotions, desires and sense of stability, to create what is called an emotionally durable wardrobe, but that’s for the next article.

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