The Sublime Subliminal

Marketing is like the judicial system, a necessary evil of civilization.  Proponents of marketing would consider it an essential method for successful capitalism and the distribution of goods and services.  Opponents would call it an exercise in boldface deception and greed.  Like almost all things in the universe, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

To muddy up the mix further comes new research published in a new book by Professor Diana Derval, “The Right Sensory Mix,” which claims that an individual’s product preferences are determined prenatally by hormones and something she has named the “Hormonal Quotient® (HQ)”.  Derval’s research has resulted in a methodology to help companies make decisions in R&D and product development to make goods and services more appealing to customers.  Gee, how convenient!

In a recent article published on MMDnewswire, “Product preferences are determined in the womb,” Derval explains how hormonal profiling can accurately predict product preferences on numerous sensory levels: taste, touch, smell, sight/color, etc.  They also can provide geographic specific profiling, for example, she notes that the majority of Chinese citizens are nearsighted, which means the color blue tends to elicit a relaxation response, whereas  more farsighted populations such as Australia would relax better around the color red.  I am not sure what to do about the fact that red is the most culturally significant color to the Chinese and whether or not the hormones driving a blue preference can be overridden by such additional factors.

While I am sure there is probably sufficient clinical data to back up these claims, it seems wise to remain cautiously skeptical.  While there is great appeal in having binary decision systems for product design choices, they can also be taken too far and too literal.  There have been many attempts in history to harness the power of the subliminal human mind to drive sales, such as those trying to tap into the “reptilian” brain of humans and hiding words and images in advertisements.

While I am certain that Dr. Derval’s methods can be successfully employed in certain instances, I suspect that it is far from a universal solution to improve sales.  As much as hormones may drive our behavior, I believe there are other “human element” factors influencing our choices that can derail this new science.  Relying on subliminal hormonal markers is too simple to apply to the total complexity of human behavior and consumer choice.  Just my opinion.


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