Once again, UCLA neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni will produce a “ranking” of Super Bowl ads by scanning the brains of subjects while they view the ads:

Want to know which Super Bowl ads scored touchdowns and which fumbled? FKF Applied Research, LLC and Professor Marco Iacoboni of the UCLA Ahmanson Lovelace Brain Mapping Center will release their Second Annual Ranking of the most effective Super Bowl ads using fMRI brain imaging. They will monitor activity in regions of the brain known to help control whether a consumer will buy or reject a pitch, and will provide color images showing these reactions. (From Super Bowl XLI Ads to be Ranked by fMRI Brain Scans)

We remain more than a bit skeptical of the whole idea (except as a great PR stunt to piggyback on the intense media interest surrounding both Super Bowl XLI and the ads that will be accompany the game). Last year, we found that one of Iacoboni’s biggest “losers” actually drove more traffic to the advertiser’s website than any other ad – see Super Bowl Ads: GoDaddy Girl 1, Neuroscientists 0.

The problem with this concept, at least from the standpoint of being useful from a marketing standpoint, is that these ads differ wildly in product focus, in purpose, and just about every other way. Some are meant to launch new products, others are designed to promote brand awareness, and still others are meant to produce a positive feeling about a familiar brand. Some are funny, some are serious, and we’ve even seen the occasional sad one. To further complicate matters, we are a long way from understanding how to interpret fMRI scan data and reach detailed marketing conclusions. In short, we’re comparing apples and oranges using a scale with an indicator that we can’t always read correctly.

Lest we be overly negative, though, there’s a positive side to this. Undoubtedly, this will generate some significant press coverage and, more importantly, increased awareness of neuromarketing and how it can be used to evaluate advertising. And we have to applaud the FKF/UCLA folks for staking out this territory early in the game, so to speak. Even if the results aren’t all that meaningful, research is forging ahead in both neuromarketing and neuroeconomics. Perhaps a few years from now brain scan data will supplant the conventional post-game ad survey data as the best indicator of who won and who lost.

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