AdAge: Neuromarketing More Than Snake Oil


Credit: Illustration by Tam Nguyen/Ad Age

AdAge, the most visible media outlet in the advertising industry, has cautiously endorsed consumer neuroscience with the headline, Time to Rethink Neuromarketing; It’s No Longer Just Snake Oil.

Jack Neff, author of the AdAge article, bases the more optimistic view of neuromarketing on multiple factors. He notes that Nielsen’s consumer neuroscience unit now has 16 labs globally, with five in the U.S. The research firm has also been willing to validate its neuromarketing studies against traditional surveys and sales data.

Another major positive for neuromarketing came from consumer product giant Mars:

[In 2017] Mars released a study of 110 TV ads showing that neuro research by MediaScience predicted sales impact from ads accurately 78 percent of the time, versus survey research predicting results only 58 percent of the time (which isn’t much better than guessing).

AdAge article declares, 'Time to Rethink #Neuromarketing; It's No Longer Just Snake Oil' #Neuroscience' Share on X
The article wasn’t universally positive for neuromarketers. Neff cites “lingering doubts” based on the small sample sizes used by many neuromarketing studies as well as the unwillingness of some service vendors to provide data that validates their techniques.

While it’s true that traditional survey techniques typically have more participants than neuromarketing studies, that doesn’t mean that smaller samples sizes are always problematic. According to Carl Marci, Nielsen’s Chief Neuroscientist, the sample size criticism isn’t justified if the results are shown to be statistically valid. Specifically, Marci says,

“Consumer neuroscience can achieve statistical significance with smaller samples because of the higher sample rates of most technologies and the ability to avoid the cognitive filters and bias inherent in self-report.”

Carl Marci of @Nielsen says consumer neuroscience tests can be valid with smaller sample sizes due to high sample rates and avoiding cognitive biases/filters. #Neuromarketing Share on X
Four years ago, I wrote a Forbes piece, Neuromarketing: Pseudoscience No More. It’s good to see that AdAge, a publication that was previously skeptical of consumer neuroscience, is acknowledging the techniques have at least some merit. Better late than never.

  1. Cesar Monroy-Fonseca says

    I applaud several takes of AdWeek’s entry, but also how Nielsen have relaunched their neuromarketing efforts.
    Regarding the sample size, I agree with both views, you can’t represent a finite population with 30 subjects, but you can obtain statistical significance with a n=30 if the experiment is designed to reject a statistical hypothesis.
    About Nielsen, I already expressed Carl Marci my contentment about openly publishing Nielsen’s EEG approach, no more secret or “proprietary” methods that were just nonsensical since the beginning.
    Now comes the hard part, convince all the disappointed customers that this time, things will be more discrete and less shimmering, but sound and solid.

  2. Larry Maguire says

    I think a problem with neuro data on consumers behaviour is that’s it’s in many ways too general, not specific. What results show in a lab exp. may not necessarily apply to a real world situation, so companies (with deep pockets) need to test this stuff in the field for it to have real weight. Re the Marci quote and statistical significance with small sample sizes; I’m skeptical. However, I certainly buy into the Psychology of buyer behavior, influence and persuasion techniques by advertisers, sales people and marketers (Robert Caldini’s book is a good read) Maybe correlating that behavior with brain activity is a trickier animal to tame.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Perhaps that’s why Nielsen is announcing a behavioral science initiative, Larry:

  3. George Johnson says

    Surveys also fail in that they are too GENERALIZED.
    If I’m selling shoes, I want to sell them to people with feet.
    Casting a wide net to everyone is a bit too futile.

    Neuromarketing is more Demographically Focused in many useful ways.
    Women want different things than men for different reasons than men.
    Surveys want to first get everyone’s opinion then break those judgements down by demographics. Whereas Neuromarketing is more focused on overcoming the factors which invite the judgements (FRICTION FACTORS) then fine tuning outcomes by science survey tweaks (men are more favored to the color blue by 53% whereas women prefer blue by 35%, but men’s second choice is green 15% while women’s second choice is purple by 23%). Using this info, a marketer can color correctly their PRIME PRODUCT choice color schemes and the DECOY VERSION so the appeal factor science metrics hit their marks faster.

    A survey would give you basic color info per “everyone’s choice” then break colors down by gender, which is useful, but not as precisely useful as the Neuromarketing factors.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.