One of the common views of neuromarketing, often expressed by those who are suspicious of business in general, is that the main purpose of neuromarketing is to manipulate consumers into making unnecessary purchases. In the words of a commenter on a blog post titled, This is Your Brain on Neurotechnology, neuromarketing is intended to make us buy “crap we don’t need and can’t afford.” Sadly, I often hear variations on this comment from all kinds of well-meaning people. Here’s my more optimistic take on the promise of neuromarketing:

First, the idea that neuromarketing can make us do things we don’t want to is bogus. If it was possible to create ads that powerful, the ad geniuses who have given us billions of dollars worth of amazing (and sometimes not so amazing) ads in the last half-century would have already discovered the formula. Sorry, but “super-ads” that turn us into buying drones aren’t going to happen.

Neuromarketing DOES offer the promise of reducing advertising waste by identifying ads that are ineffective or even turn off their target audience. Less annoyance for consumers, and perhaps even lower ad expenditures.

An even greater promise is the potential to make products we really like. Most new products fail, even when market research using focus groups, surveys, etc., predict they will be well-received. Movies and video games are already being tested this way, and the day may not be far off when, say, a new cell phone’s look and feel is neuro-optimized. (It may have already happened!) What’s not to like about that?

Forget about selling “crap we don’t need.” Let’s think about using neuroscience to improve our daily experience with ads that don’t make us switch channels and products we actually love.