Neuromarketing Standards Battle Ahead?


Days after the Advertising Research Foundation and a consortium of firms joined to conduct neuromarketing tests and establish standards (see Neuromarketing Standards Proposed), the biggest player in the field, NeuroFocus, is proposing its own “NeuroStandards” for study design, sample sizes, data collection techniques, laboratory procedures, and consumer protection. The firm calls these NeuroStandards “the first and only set of scientifically-sound principles for conducting EEG-based, full-brain measurements intended for application to market research studies.”

NeuroFocus explained that these NeuroStandards are based on universally-accepted pillars in the academic, scientific, and business communities: standards established by institutional review boards in the medical/neuroscience fields, and Six Sigma and Total Quality Management principles and practices. NeuroStandards are intended to provide senior business management responsible for market research projects and their application for brands, products, packaging, in-store marketing, and advertising with the highest possible quality criteria for designing and conducting neuromarketing studies. [From press release: NeuroFocus Announces NeuroStandards; Market Research Industry’s Sole Set of Principles for Conducting Scientifically-Sound, Full Brain-based EEG Studies.]

Some might find it odd that NeuroFocus is declining to participate in the ARF-sponsored effort and chose to launch its own standards effort. The firm says it will make its standards available to businesses wishing to use them, including the ARF committee. Research asked NeuroFocus CEO Dr. A. K. Pradeep why the firm declined to participate in the ARF project:

Dr AK Pradeep, CEO of NeuroFocus, told Research today that his firm had not joined the ARF study because it does not see the need for a trial, and because of competition concerns relating to “the way the ARF neurotrial is set up”…

Pradeep said he felt the ARF’s planned trial “wasn’t the right way to go about it”. He said NeuroFocus’ secientific team had already submitted its work for peer review and established its reputation “beyond question”. [From Research NeuroFocus announces own neuromarketing guidelines by Robert Bain.]

The NeuroFocus move is sure to ignite controversy and draw sniping from ARF participants.

I’ll put a more positive spin on these developments, though. A standards controversy is one sign that the nascent neuromarketing industry is growing up. Published research demonstrating the effectiveness of specific neuromarketing techniques combined with accepted standards are both necessary for brain-based and biometric neuromarketing to be accepted as a legitimate and powerful tool for market research.

  1. Tassos says

    Roger Hi,

    Any idea how one can find the full text of these standards?



    1. Roger Dooley says

      Tassos, the ARF effort is just kicking off, so I expect it will be a while before we see anything released. Neurofocus has promised to share their own standards, but I haven’t actually seen anything yet.


  2. shane moon says

    Interesting though that Neurofocus standards are based on SixSigma and TQM standards though which are management process methodologies. I foresee it being a published operating manual standardisation rather than a formal review of the data analytic procedures with real captured data – I will be optimistic and say it will….time will tell.


  3. Ron Wright says

    Hi Roger and Tassos –

    FYI – the ARF Neurotrial results /findings are scheduled to be announced at their upcoming 75th anniversary conference in March in New York. A timeline was disclosed in detail at the ARF kick off event on Tuesday. Each participating company will receive the same media to be tested within a two month time frame with submission of a report on December 1st. Then during the following months, experts will be reviewing the reports submitted and interacting with the companies on methodologies, etc. with the recommendations, as stated above, released in March.

    ARF has created a peer reviewed process in which the reviewers are independent and not monetarily involved with any participating company. They have pulled together leading experts in both the neuroscientific and market research world to be a part of this important study and provide objective observations and recommendations for the field.

    Each of the four participating EEG companies in the ARF Neurotrial Study (from the US, UK, Poland and Australia) are led by recognized cognitive neuroscientists with significant published peer reviewed papers in the field. They have no fear of openly discussing and defending the methodologies utilized by their companies.

    From the early days of neuromarketing, both providers and clients have exclaimed the need for an organization such as ARF to step up and provide unbaised leadership in establishing standards for the industry. Executives in the two companies that have opted not to participate in the ARF study (i.e. NeuroFocus and Emsense, both in the US) previously concurred and vocally pushed for establishing non-partisan guidelines. We were surprised to learn of their decision not to participate in the ARF Neurotrial Study and subsequently, NeuroFocus’s release of their own “neurostandards”. A public disclosure of the details on these standards would be welcome.

    As always, thanks Roger for leading an interesting discussion.

    Best regards,
    Ron Wright
    President / CEO
    Sands Research Inc.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Thanks for the ARF update, Ron. I’m looking forward to seeing how that effort progresses.


  4. Tassos says

    Hi Ron,

    Thanks indeed for the update on the ARF. I had no idea of all the background info you mentioned. It is all quite interesting.

    My concern however is much more specific. I am just begining a PhD in marketing which will be utilising eye-tracking and have thoughts for further research with fMRI’s and stuff and I am more than interested to see what the type of the proposed standards/guidelindes is going to be like i.e. are they going to be simply generic rules or will they go down to a level of proposed protocolls for experiment design and data analyses…

    It would be refreshing however if for once in marketing, in the nascent stages of development, we had academics and practitioners working together to establish industry standards, instead of having academics ‘up-there’ and practitioners ‘out-there’ each trying his/her own thing…

    As Roger said we will be looking forward to the effort.


  5. matt wiggins says

    Ok, I’m probably (definitely – LOL) way outta my element here, and this is likely gonna be a stupid question. If I’m understanding this correctly, does this mean that tests will be done to measure brain activity of subjects exposed to different types of marketing? (And then, in turn, one could theoretically determine the most effective methods of marketing?)

    Am I on the right track here (again, sorry if this is a dumb question)?

    If so, I’m sure I’m just the uninitiated, but wouldn’t a fairly standard/expected response be similar to that of how people learn – some methods work best on different people? Or is the goal to see what works the ‘best’ on the ‘most’?

    1. Roger Dooley says

      You are definitely on the right track, Matt. I’d say most marketers would optimize their ads for best overall performance in a sample representative of their target market. A company marketing to middle-aged women would test members of that group, etc.


  6. Pete Abilla says

    I’d be interested to see the relationship between neuromarketing and lean six sigma. Any thoughts?

  7. Ron Wright says

    Hi Pete –

    Since we manufacturer our own equipment and our previous company was in the medical device field, at Sands Research we operate under strict FDA approved Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and ISO quality standards. These are the internationally accepted and required standards for all equipment and processes in the healthcare field. We have proposed and will emphasize that any data collection equipment by neuromarketing firms meet these standards for the safety of participants.

    For the handling of participant data, we also follow HIPPA privacy standards for the protection and secure handling of collected information. Again, well established procedures in the healthcare and medical research fields.

    One of our recommendations to the ARF expert panel regarding neuromarketing standards will be that all service providers are utilizing FDA approved equipment and HIPPA practices for the safety and security of participants in studies. We feel very strongly about this and the healthcare industry has decades of experience of handling these issues. You can understand the damage to the fledgling neuromarketing industry if a “fly-by-night” neuromarketing firm uses faulty equipment and a participant is hurt in some way. It is better to be pro-active on this issue than re-active.

    My two cents.

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