R.I.P. EmSense

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.]

  1. Matthew Wall says

    Speaking as a brain scientist, I find the idea that you could derive anything useful from such a simple piece of kit as the EmBand almost laughable. I work very, very hard in my research to pull out sensible results from the cacophony of neural background noise and it stretches credulity to breaking point that you could derive useful metrics even on (relatively) simple processes like attention with a single, dry EEG contact. Yet, I’ve seen several neuromarketing companies touting EEG technology like this and making very bold claims about it. I wonder if EmSense (or their customers) have finally worked out that the science behind their claims just doesn’t stack up?

  2. AT Grant says

    Any more news about the EmSense demise?

  3. Keith Monson says

    I have the hardware and didn’t get a chance to use it so I hope they will either start up again or someone will give me an opportunity to participate. I’ll keep it until they tell me otherwise.

  4. P C says

    How do i return the emsense headband and monitoring usb ?
    they still owe me about 25.00 in walmart gift cards too

  5. Angela says

    P C they owe me some gift cards too! and when I tried to email them I got “ohh you need to contact whomever you did the survey for” WTFE! It would have been nice to have been sent an email letting us know about the demise!

  6. P C says

    Sell the headband units on Ebay, other marketing companies will want the items to break it down and see how it works.. Send a certified deadline letter to request a return pre paid address and mailer and give ample time at least 30 would suffice. If they do not reply, which they wont. If you note in the letter you will sell or destroy the item and they do not reply, I am pretty sure you are safe to sell or even trash the units. Those units never worked fully and guessed at your thoughts reading this crap they had us do in which they never paid us. I am still owed 25.00 and will never get it but by selling it, I could get hundreds if not, thousands.

  7. Jer1041 says

    Sorry to see it’s demise. I enjoyed the studies. Earned Amazon rewards also.

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