French Appoint Neuromarketing Skeptic


Have the French appointed a neuromarketing skeptic as a special neuroscience advisor? It seems so. First, this news item:

The French are pioneering the marriage of neuro-science and public policy.

In what is thought to be a world first, the Prime Minister has, within his Centre for Strategic Analysis, a program dedicated to the use of brain and behavioural research in the formation of public policy.

Neuro-scientist Olivier Oullier is the founder and director of that program, and referred to as a ‘public intellectual’. [From LifeMatters – Neuroscience and Public Policy.]

Then, we see the same M. Oullier saying “le neuromarketing c’est plutôt de la foutaise.” (By my poor translsation, that’s “mostly nonsense.”) He continues:

« tout ce que nous savons sur le cerveau est surestimé par les investisseurs et les industriels …les neuromarketeurs s’intéressent à ces techniques car ils se disent « ah voilà un “décisiomètre” et je vais pouvoir manipuler tout ça. [From AgoraVox – Neuromarketing, du nouveau dans nos cerveaux.]

In that quote, Oullier takes neuromarketers to task for over-hyping their claims.

I think neuromarketers should be delighted with Oullier’s appointment despite his skepticism. First, the industry has avoided being saddled with a neuro-alarmist appointee who thinks that neuromarketers really can control people’s minds. (As ludicrous as that idea is, it seems to pop up periodically.)

Second, the neuromarketing industry really can use some skepticism to flush out overblown claims. I’ve always debunked the idea that there is a “buy button” in the brain that marketers can push, and Oullier makes the same point: “l’idée même qu’il y aurait un bouton pour n’importe quoi dans dans le cerveau est une réduction de notre système le plus complexe. Le cerveau c’est l’organe le plus compliqué, à la fois dans sa structure et dans son fonctionnement. Penser qu’on aurait une bosse du crime ou un bouton d’achat est scientifiquement faux.”

If Oullier can maintain his skepticism but keep an open mind as neuromarketers demonstrate what they realistically are able to accomplish, his appointment gets a bit “mais oui!” from me.

Thanks to the good folks at Mind Hacks for rooting out the story of Oullier’s appointment. They found Oullier to be not skeptical enough, noting, “Rather worringly, unit director Olivier Oullier seems to think that ‘neuroscience’ and ‘neuroimaging’ allows access to unconscious and emotional responses that aren’t available to established behavioural research. This is clearly crap…”

  1. Alexandre says

    It’s normal that people are afraid of neuromarketing. Because it’s related with the study of the brain. People just have to know how it works. It’s not a monster, it’s a new technology that will help companies to make “the perfect” products and services to people.

  2. Olivier Oullier says

    Dear Roger,

    many thanks for your post.

    For the record, I never said that neuromarketing is de la “foutaise”. These words are those of the person who wrote the article. What I have been saying for several years however, is that if neuroscience and neuroimaging can help us (together with strong behavioural experiments) understand better how people make decisions, see, touch, react to fear, memorize, read etc. it might very well provide interesting insights on consumers’ behaviour. if so this knowledge should be used to improve prevention in public health, among other things.

    And this is what we have worked on over the past year at the Center for Strategic Analysis. Please find here a report entitled “Improving public health prevention with behavioural, cognitive and neuroscience” that we have just published and can be downloaded for free:

    As you will see, my skepticism as well as my hopes for more efficient campaigns in public health prevention can be found in it together with contributions by international experts in social marketing, psychology, public policy, social psychology, consumer neuroscience, and behavioural economics.

    I hope we can have the opportunity to discuss this one of these days.

    — Olivier

  3. Roger Dooley says


    I think your viewpoints and mine have a lot in common: the importance of behavioral studies, and the need to ensure that any marketing interpretations of brain scan data are backed up with good research.

    Thanks for stopping by and clarifying, Olivier. And, assuming the story was correct, congratulations on your appointment!


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