Neuromarketing in the News

The last few days have brought some neuromarketing coverage in the mainstream press. If Only I Had a Brain Scan in BusinessWeek describes some recent ad testing:

It might soon be time to redefine MRI machines as “market research imaging” devices. At Harvard’s McLean Hospital not long ago, six male whiskey drinkers, ages 25 to 34, lined up to have their brains scanned for Arnold Worldwide. The Boston-based ad shop was using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fmri) to gauge the emotional power of various images, including college kids drinking cocktails on spring break, twentysomethings with flasks around a campfire, and older guys at a swanky bar. The scans “help give us empirical evidence of the emotion of decision-making,” says Baysie Wightman, head of Arnold’s new, science-focused Human Nature Dept. The results will help shape the 2007 ad campaign for client Brown-Forman, which owns Jack Daniels.

Somewhat less bullish on neuroscience-based marketing is Trying to get into the minds of consumers in the Los Angeles Times, which is apparently a syndication of an article written for the Financial Times by Alan Mitchell. Although the article’s subhead says, “neuro-marketing may be wishful thinking,” the text itself is quite reasonable in discussing the limitations of current technology.

Most neuroscientific research has so far only uncovered the mechanisms behind long-established marketing and advertising techniques. “There’s nothing that comes through that says: ‘Oh, my God! We have to change everything we do!’ ” said Gordon Pincott, global development director of WPP Group-owned market research agency Millward Brown.

In uncovering the mechanisms of attention, perception, memory and learning, neuroscience may also be revealing the limits of marketers’ ability to influence consumers.

Research by Raymond’s team suggests that consumers’ attention is “task-related” and that consumer reactions to things that interfere with these tasks including advertising can generate “very negative” reactions. Also, “if you throw too much information at people, they shut down. Marketers need to take that on board.”

“Humans evolved to make trade-offs in complex situations,” said Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University. “It’s a fundamental misunderstanding that if you look at someone’s brain you can manipulate them. People really aren’t that easy to manipulate.”

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Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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