Marketers manipulate our cortical setup.
- Our prefrontal cortex gets most excited when the cost is lower than normal.
- Our cautious insula is most active when prices are higher than normal.
- Our brain then compares pleasure versus pain to tell us what to purchase.
Costco is the ninth largest retailer in the world, and last year their annual revenue was more than $70 billion. The function of our brain has much to do with that.
Jonah Lehrer on Costco:
I walk in for some toilet paper and leave with a new television, a tub of cashews and a lifetime supply of chapstick.
The bare bones warehouse aesthetic, the discounted house brand, the constant reassurance that we’re paying “wholesale” prices – it’s all an effective means of convincing us to not worry so much about the price tag. As a result, we’re able to focus entirely on our anticipated pleasures, which is why I walk out of the store with all this stuff I don’t need.
We don’t look at the electric grill or box of chocolates and perform an explicit cost-benefit analysis. Instead, we outsource much of this calculation to our emotional brain, and rely on relative amounts of pleasure versus pain to tell us what to purchase.