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Customer purchasing decisions: map or labyrinth?

Very recently, Google Spain carried out a study called “Decoding Decisions” in order to determine what ratings and steps were key to the adoption of decisions of buys by clients of large companies. This information was assumed to be key for the orientation of advertising and business marketing. 

Decoding Decisions

The main findings of the study consisted of the determination of the cognitive biases that operate in the context prior to the decision to purchase, which were stated as follows: category heuristics (shortcuts to filter and decide); free effect (free item offer); carryover effect (prevalence of majority opinion and digital reviews); effect now (the closer the product is obtained, the better); authority bias (positive evaluation of expert opinions); Scarcity bias (preference for product with limited availability). And regarding the conclusions of the study he referred to:

(1) Expose the brand at any time during the process

(2) Correctly and responsibly apply cognitive biases to campaigns

(3) Shorten the time between the trigger and the final sale.

What is stated in the study reviewed appears to be very reasonable and practical, but outside of laboratory experimentation, does it have the potential attributed to it? Let's look at some points that provide additional complexity to what is proposed to us. 

Two types of intelligence

For some decades now, emotions and feelings have been increasingly appreciated as something that precedes and enriches decision-making. Antonio Damasio (2021) has pointed out that humans are governed by two types of intelligence:

  • the first is based on reasoning and creativity and depends on the manipulation of explicit patterns of information
  • the second It is “the non-explicit ability found in bacteria, the type of intelligence on which almost all life on Earth depends[,] is not accessible to mental inspection.”
Papercut Silhouette Of Human Head With Colorful Co 2021 09 03 00 41 15 UTC 1 (1)

human thought

A United Nations Rapporteur reported a few months ago on the implications of techniques such as micro-targeting, neuroimaging or inference or prediction technologies, which together posed serious challenges for contemporary legal frameworks given their implications for freedom of thought, as well as the links they managed to establish between emotional responses and decision-making, and what is even more disturbing, the extent to which they could reach to “play with our subconscious desires.” 
Following this line about experimental scope, in 2020 a Deutsche Welle documentary referred to the experiments carried out at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Lübek that demonstrated the decisive influence of the diet on human thoughts.

With all these new elements being deployed in different fields, it is almost impossible to think of the advertising activity of companies as a classic “informational advertising”, For some time now, there is no doubt that we have entered the era of advertising actions that have a series of tools capable of actively exploiting the expected thought patterns, and potentially encouraging the adoption of certain behaviors, as well as, “isolate.” "effectively to the groups, preventing them from seeking and exchanging information", as stated in the Report of the United Nations Rapporteur referred to above.

Two lines of action

There would then two lines of action that could be undertaken urgently and necessary. The first would be one of type experimental, and that cognitive evaluative experimentation should give way to one where the field of exploration is extended and incorporates all those other behavioral, bacteriological, nutritional, homeostatic components that, due to the contributions of neurosciences, health-ecological anthropology or microbiology we know are of enormous importance when it comes to examining the human decision-making process.

A second line of action has to do with the regulatory and ethical debate. There is currently an aura of suspicion about everything concerning existing and emerging technologies linked in this case to the field of business marketing. There are two ways to address legitimate concerns about the use of users' thoughts and emotions. 

Either we continue generating a double discourse in which we make the “politically correct” experimental developments transparent – and do not show the most controversial developments – or we fully address the crux of the matter by generating debates and public exchanges around this type of technologies linked to advertising. . As cumbersome and challenging as opting for this second path can be, I believe that the current experimental times make it necessary. 

After all that is at stake is nothing less than our mind, our freedom of thought in all fields – including those of clients and users -. Our mind once considered “a sanctuary into which no power can penetrate”, has now become a authentic labyrinth of connections to decipher. For large companies the issue is not trivial either. The latent risk of “hasty legislation that prohibits all forms of thought alteration that could hinder legitimate persuasion or medical innovation,” has already been warned at the United Nations headquarters… Who “plans” to take the first step?


  1. Center for Biomedical and Environmental Technological Research (CITBM). Visiting Research Fellow Wolfson Institute of Population Health, Queen Mary University of London.
  2. https://www.observatorio-empresas.vodafone.es/articulos/grandes-empresas/criterios-toma-decisiones-compra-clientes-alejandro-salinas-google/?did=OVE:dt-20211228:cp-vdf_brand_empresas:cn-Display:kw-:cc-:cl-no_cliente:sp-LaVanguardia:cr-:gk-:st-:ta-:md-:ds-:pr-OVE:wn-brand:pl-OVE_LaVanguardia_Editorial
  3. Damasio, A. (2021). Feeling and knowing: A new theory of conscience. epub. Odile Jacob. pp. 19-21.
  4. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/Annual.aspx
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q79eUskZ7rM

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