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]