EmSense EmBand wireless headset

EmBand Headset from EmSense

[Note: Since this post was published, a tweet attributed to Elissa Moses, Chief Analytics Officer at Emsense, suggests they are in a “sale process” and MediaPost quoted her as saying that the firm wasn’t going out of business – see below.] EmSense, one of the early participants in the neuromarketing space, is indeed closing as I reported yesterday. Although I have yet to speak with a company officer, I have been in contact with a multiple reliable sources who confirm the firm’s status. Apparently, EmSense is wrapping up open contracts and working to dispose of assets. A presentation by EmSense executives W. Bryan Smith & Keith Winter at the Esomar market research conference in Amsterdam was canceled yesterday.

Implications for Neuromarketing

One of the first questions some will raise is whether the demise of a visible neuromarketing firm will cast a pall over the entire industry. I don’t think it will, nor is there any reason why it should. In any new fast-growing, technology-driven market, companies rise and fall. I watched the birth of the PC market, and the firms that emerged as the biggest players in the long run weren’t the leaders in the early days. Not unlike the current neuromarketing business, the early PC market saw many different technology variations from both established firms and many startups. Many of these firms fell by the wayside as a few major technology platforms and individual companies emerged as dominant.

The PC comparison may break down since interoperability and compatibility were key factors, while neuromarketing studies have no such constraint. Even in the latter, though, the need for research and standards has been recognized. The major effort to validate neuromarketing techniques is the ARF Neurostandards project, an ongoing effort in which EmSense did not participate.

We don’t yet know what happened at EmSense – was it simply a case of burning through their $9 million in venture capital too quickly? Were there technical or quality issues with their studies? Were there other problems unrelated to their actual work? Some in the industry have been critical of the firm’s EmBand technology, which captured EEG measurements with a single dry contact, the smallest number used by any neuromarketing firm that employs EEG.

EmSense was a pioneer in attempting to scale the size of studies by remotely measuring the reactions of subjects from their home computers. While the ability to perform large, cost-effective studies is desirable, conducting these studies remotely opens the door for quality control issues and even fraud. (EmSense claimed their technology would detect study participants who might sign up for multiple accounts to earn more fees.)

I expect that other neuromarketing firms will work to quickly fill the void left by EmSense’s departure. The Advertising Research Foundation will no doubt point to the firm’s failure as an indicator of the need for accepted standards for neuromarketing studies.

In short, life in the world of neuromarketing will go on.

[UPDATE – The following tweet appears to be from Elissa Moses, an EmSense executive:

Whether this is a sale of intellectual property or an attempt to sell EmSense as a going concern is unknown. According to an article by Joe Mandese of MediaPost,

She [Moses] denied reports that the company was going out of business. “We’re completing all of our current projects that are in the pipeline, but we’re not starting any new projects,” she said.]