How the monkey improved marketing

Dalibor Šumiga Behavioral marketing/Neuromarketing, Marketing

During the 1990s, a team of Italian scientists led by Dr. Giacomo Rizzollati studied the neurons that control movement and hand-mouth coordination.

As usual, guess who drew the short straw (again) – monkeys.

Monkeys connected to an EEG were given food, and scientists monitored which neurons in the brain were activated during this activity (this is a simplified version; I guess you’re not that interested in knowing that the electrodes were actually connected to the ventral premotor cortex).

During a break, one of the scientists decided to grab a bite and that’s where the interesting part comes in – a monkey connected to the EEG watched the scientist eat, and at that moment, 10% of the brain neurons became activated, the same neurons that were active during the test, when the monkey had lunch for scientific purposes.

And that is how by sheer coincidence the monkey (or scientist, this is arguable both ways), discovered the so-called “mirror neuron”.


Those of you old enough will remember the show America’s Funniest Home Videos, while younger generations watch similar home videos of various bloopers on YouTube. It makes one wonder why we even want to look at such situations when we, too, feel uneasy waiting to see, for example, someone get hit on the head with a wood board, fall off a bicycle, or accidentally fall on a painful body part…

Also, I’m sure you’ve seen a video of someone bungee jumping. At least one of you must have said or thought, “No way man, I would never try something like this!” Another might say or think, “Damn, this is so cool, I have to try it!”

In all of the above examples, your brain activated the mirror neuron. The mirror neuron puts you in the shoes of the person or situation you are looking at, and triggers your reaction – be it positive or negative.

Now you are probably wondering what was the last commercial you saw that activated your mirror neuron.

Let me help you. The commercial with Severina, one of the most popular Croatian singer, licking the newest flavour of ice cream.

No, it’s not a commercial designed by Promosapiens, so it is not an advertisement for our behavioural campaign. :-)

Was the author of the commercial aiming at sex appeal and the fact that Croatian celebrities sell products well, or was he/she taking into account this deeper, behavioural component of marketing, I wouldn’t know the answer.

The fact is that you are watching Severina licking an ice cream – someone for the ice cream, someone for Severina. In both cases, you have turned on your mirror neuron.