Neuromarketing Promises Greater Manipula- er, "Effectiveness"

Neuromarketing is a new audience measurement approach that uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), along with other fancy brain reading machines formerly reserved for the medical industry, to observe and measure brain activity in people exposed to advertisements. The resulting data can be used to craft more effective ads and target them more accurately to the right consumer. Says the director of a neuromarketing consultancy, “Emotions cannot necessarily be accurately described. We can see the discrepancy between what you say and what your brain says, and reduce the margin of error.”

Viacom Branding used neuromarketing to test ads in episodes of South Park in Great Britain and Ireland, in what sounds like a bizarre focus group experience: “The two dozen subjects each spent an hour inside an fMRI scanner watching four programs while their brain activity was measured.” However, the results—that ads that are “congruent” with the programming, like alcohol-based drinks, outperform “incongruent” ads for things like the Red Cross and Tetley tea—seem to be no-brainers. But an executive says that the results make it clear that even more attention should be paid to the context of an ad.

Another project used EEGs and eye-tracking programs to measure responses to ads placed in virtual walk-abouts of famous cities. They found that “saturation campaigns produce diminishing returns.”

So far, neuromarketing has been confined primarily to Europe and kept largely under the radar in order to avoid what could be negative public reaction. But a creepy Stanford University experiment earlier this year showed that we can actually predict what test-subjects will buy based on past purchases and brain scans, and we can’t imagine American ad agencies or companies wanting to miss the chance to sell more things, faster—without consumers knowing exactly why the ads work so well.

“This Is Your Brain on Advertising” [BusinessWeek]


Edit Your Comment

  1. HeyThereKiller says:

    And to think, I was creeped out when the PRISM segmentations told me that my parents drive Infinitis and that we like to eat at California Pizza Kitchen….

  2. bigsnaab says:

    Yikes! DVR anyone? Too bad it’s not profitable, otherwise I’d buy stock in TiVo.

  3. gafpromise says:

    How much money do these people have?? Aren’t MRI scanners like really expensive? I knew marketing budgets were out of control but that really puts it in perspective!

  4. HeyThereKiller says:

    @gafpromise: When I was temping, I did some stenography for a Chanel focus group. It was a waste of everyone’s time. The moderator was awful, the women in the group were answering their phones and walking out every few minutes, the market research team wasn’t paying any attention, and to top it all off, they had me taking all of their notes (big oops).

    Each woman in the focus group got $200 cash as they walked out the door, so over the course of two days, they dealt out close to $10k cash to people who contributed absolutely no insight whatsoever. Add that to however much they paid for the room, the report, my $20 an hour, and they spent a shit ton of money on absolutely nothing.

    If this MRI bull is going to get real results, companies are going to pay out the asshole for it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Living in the future is as pointlessly disturbing as PK Dick imagined.

  6. royal72 says:

    “…and kept largely under the radar in order to avoid what could be negative public reaction”

    no shit, really?… i got a better idea. give bruiser a bat and $1000 a day to find people and force them to purchase your products.

  7. magus_melchior says:

    People enter the marketing profession after they realize that they have grown up without any particular skills.

    – Dogbert, “Understanding Marketing People”

  8. whytee says:

    I think that distant corporate dream of a feedlot of “dumb consumers” may finally be edging closer to reality.

  9. Ausoleil says:

    I asked my wife about this, considering she’s a denizen of the ad game and would presumably know about such things. Her reply was that it was the stuff of the future and would presumably only be performed at the behest of companies with deep pockets. She certainly didn’t think that your typical agency was going to order a couple fMRI machines this or next year and hire techs to operate them in order to perfect their pitches.

    I’d swear I heard “techno-voodoo” a couple of times.

  10. Parting says:

    1) Spend a lot of money for marketing research for fMRI.

    2) Get your research confiscated and labeled as top secret by the government.

    3) Have consumers laugh at your company?

  11. jeffjohnvol says:

    The picture is from the book “Scanners”. If you see it in the bookstore, read the first 15 pages. I guarantee you’ll buy it. Awesome book.

  12. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @jeffjohnvol: Huh? I’m pretty sure Scanners wasn’t adapted from a book. I hope I’m not missing a joke here.

  13. @jeffjohnvol: Or watch the movie by David Cronenberg, which came first and has an awesome freak-out special effect early on (warning, it’s gross): []

  14. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @Chris Walters: Aw, you can’t warn them, that takes all the fun out of it.