Neuromarketing Hope and Hype: 5 Brands Conducting Brain Research

Even before the age of Mad Men marketers were trying to tap into the human subconscious to influence consumers to buy their products.

But over the last decade or so, as the fields of neuroscience and marketing science (as some like to call it) have evolved, the area of Neuromarketing has emerged. Today more companies are investing in the technology and studies. Neuromarketing blogs (Roger Dooley) and books (Buyology) are being accorded more attention and legitimacy. Nielsen's recent investment in researcher NeuroFocus has increased the influence and credibility of neuromarketing. However, the field is young and a bit like the wild west. And many in and out of marketing have raised concerns about the reliability and ethicality of neuromarketing.

What is Neuromarketing?

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Neuromarketing is the practice of using technology to measure brain activity in consumer subjects in order to inform the development of products and communications—really to inform the brand's 4Ps. The premise is that consumer buying decisions are made in split seconds in the subconscious, emotional part of the brain and that by understanding what we like, don't like, want, fear, are bored by, etc. as indicated by our brain's reactions to brand stimuli, marketers can design products and communications to better meet "unmet" market needs, connect and drive "the buy".

It is commonly accepted that traditional market research is flawed because consumers don't know, can't articulate, or will even lie in a focus group about their purchase motivations. Neuromarketing research removes subjectivity and ambiguity by going right to measuring observable brain behavior. Respondent attention level, emotional engagement and memory storage are common metrics.

Techniques include:
fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
SST (Steady State Topography)
EEG (Electroencephalography)
Eye Tracking
Galvanic Skin Response

So who is using neuromarketing (aside from consultants)?

Microsoft is now mining EEG data to understand users' interactions with computers including their feelings of "surprise, satisfaction and frustration."

Frito-Lay has been studying female brains to learn how to better appeal to women. Findings showed the company should avoid pitches related to "guilt" and guilt-free and play up "healthy" associations.

Google made some waves when it partnered with MediaVest on a "biometrics" study to measure the effectiveness of YouTube overlays versus pre-rolls. Result: Overlays were much more effective with subjects.

Daimler employed fMRI research to inform a campaign featuring car headlights to suggest human faces which tied to the reward center of the brain.

The Weather Channel used EEG, eye-tracking and skin response techniques to measure viewer reactions to three different promotional pitches for a popular series.

But the practice of neuromarketing is not without its critics and issues. First, consumer advocates and other groups have claimed neuromarketers are exploiting people to "sell us crap we don't need" and creating unhealthy and irresponsible addictions and cravings. What about "brainwashing" voters in a political campaign?

Second, neuromarketing still suffers from the issue it is trying to overcome: the artificiality of market research. Brain activity in a lab may not equate to brain behavior in the mall where the buying decision is consummated.

Third, neuromarketing studies have not been common in the B2B arena, perhaps because the customer buying process tends to be lengthy and involve many people so it may be difficult to measure these decisions reliably.

Fourth, the cost of conducting these studies today is prohibitive for many companies.

Neuromarketing is only poised to grow in use and influence. But as the practice makes its way out of the lab and into the real world, at the grocery aisle, onto your computer perhaps...a debate, well beyond marketing, will rage.

Read more of Kevin Randall's blog

214_brandspeak_img_krandallKevin Randall is Director of Brand Strategy & Research at Movéo Integrated Branding (krandall@moveo.com). Kevin consults on brand matters to Fortune 500 companies and specialized health care and business-to-business organizations. His expertise is understanding, integrating and applying research and brand strategy to create business and customer value. Kevin has been invited to speak on brand topics by Google, Harvard Business School, Wharton and Kellogg, and his articles have been published on six continents. His clients at Movéo include Siemens, CareerBuilder, Cardinal Health, Molex, GOJO/Purell and Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Prior to joining Movéo, Kevin worked for Interbrand where he developed brand strategies for companies such as Abbott, Alcatel, Cricket Communications, Ford, GE, McDonald's, Motorola, Nationwide, Roche, Smucker's and 3M.

[neuromarketing image by Antaya, wikimedia commons]

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7 Comments

  • GK Rowe

    Neuroscience has provided a new approach to the art and design fields. The information in neuroaesthetics and neuromarketing may be new but it is relevant and useful. As designers, are we not responsible for continued education? Artists and designers should be partnering with scientists in the field of neuroscience by making informed responses about the outcomes and struggling with the practical applications. As an educator, I think the "brainswashing" argument is weightless. Marketing concepts were designed at the beginning of organized communities - look at the beginning of the Egyptian civilization and the understanding of visual communication to maintain order and establish hierarchical power. Besides, the point of marketing products in a world of abundance requires adaptation to new concepts that will ultimately serve the same purpose for better brand recognition, ROI and increased sales.

    GK Rowe

  • David Solie

    We have entered the "cognition" zone with everyone dashing about to map out the code of "connectivity." As you point out, some of it seems valid from a "data" measurement perspective but a lot of it seems like digital voodoo. What's interesting is that the "customer connectivity" riddle was partially solved with the advent of developmental psychology. Developmental tasks affect enormous influence over the points of attention and behavior of humans. They are deep, consumptive currents that resonate with the right signaling. By the right signaling, I mean language, metaphors, and stories that tap into the emotional energy that surrounds the tasks. And you can do this without sticking someone's head in an MRI and feeding them porno or food...

  • kagorges

    While this is interesting science, the use of brain activity monitoring to ascertain people's needs, desires, and preferences seems not only excessive, but also a poor substitute for actually engaging with customers, prospects, and non-interested people. We are in a wave of change toward conversation and collaboration enabled by the current web technology and yet there are still those of us wanting to figure out what's going on in the world by looking at the micro view. Not that this won't be interesting information, but taken in context I'd say it doesn't represent what I would weigh more heavily—personal story and interaction that informs human intuition.

    --
    Kathryn Gorges
    www.twitter.com/SocialMktgDiva
    www.facebook.com/SocialMarketi...

  • biju dominic

    hi, neuromarketing the way it is being mentioned in the article misses the trees for the woods. no doubt the human brain is the source of all thoughts and action and its understanding will tremendously help marketers understand consumer behaviour far better.
    But the human brain is the most complex system in the universe where all thoughts and actions are generated at the neurons and neurotransmitters level. The fMRIs and EEGs scans only scratch the surface of the source of human thoughts and actions.
    We at FinalMile Consulting, a design+consulting firm, use the understanding of human brain not to justify the traditional marketing theory and practice. An understanding of the human brain will show that positioning theory, differentiation theory or the the belief that mass media is the best bet for brand communication etc are no more true and do not have any neurological backing.
    so the big question is, are we going to use the latest learning from the world of neurology to develop a deep understanding of human behaviour, even if questions many of the holy cows of marketing theory and practice or are we going to use the understanding of the human brain to repackage the very old wine that has gone bad into a new bottle? The future of neuromarketing as a practice depends on this
    Biju Dominic
    FinalMile Consulting, Mumbai, India

  • Ron Wright

    Kevin, et.al.

    You are missing some of the more interesting advancements going on in the field of neuromarketing. The technology (EEG data recording simultaneously with Eye-tracking) has now gone mobile. Featured on a recent NBC Today Show segment, Sands Research teaming with Buyology Inc. demonstrated the ability to go to the grocery store or other retail (mall) environments with the shopper. Not only recording the consumer's brain wave activity but also time synced with eye-movement (key advancement) to determine where in the aisle, shelve, product placement the shopper is looking along with their brain's response.

    Second, an important research article was just published in the August issue of Quirk's Marketing Research Review, where Sands Research joined with Ameritest, a well known copytesting / market research firm. In the study, we examined a series of fast food TV commercials to compare and contrast findings from our respective diagnostic approaches. The results proved that combining broadly accepted copytesting research with neuromarketing outcomes provide an enhanced understanding of the participant's response to the media.

    Since there are several neuromarketing firms in the US (and a few in Europe and Australia), the costs are dropping with the competition and are similar in price to standard market research studies (at least the EEG based firms are in this price range). Many well known brand owners are now incorporating neuromarketing in their research budgets. As for B2B, yes most of the neuromarketing technology has been applied in the B2C market but the expectation is that B2B will be adopting this research methodology soon.

    Many of us with years (decades) of work in the field of cognitive neuroscience are concerned about the "wild west" and unsupportable claims being made by some of the participants in this field. Discussions about ethical standards have been raised and are moving forward. Our knowledge of brain function is at the very early stage and anyone that claims they can identify a consumer's "buy button" has little or no crediblity among neuroscientists. The over hyped fear of "brainwashing" has not diminished from the very earliest days of advertising.

    Detailed information on all the above studies and facts about the science behind the technology can be found on our website - www.sandsresearch.com

    Thank you for bringing attention to an exciting new area where the advancements of neuroscience are being applied in the real world.

    --
    Ron Wright
    CEO
    Sands Research Inc.
    www.sandsresearch.com

  • Stephen Byrne

    Unfortunately, Martin Lindstrom's Buyology completely fails to add to a serious consideration of the role of neuromarketing, as much of the science behind it is weak and shrouded in some startlingly unjustifiable claims and Lindstrom's own brand evangelism. See what I said about this book at http://diffusionblog.blogspot....

  • Ron Wright

    Kevin, et.al.

    You are missing some of the more interesting advancements going on in the field of neuromarketing. The technology (EEG data recording simultaneously with Eye-tracking) has now gone mobile. Featured on a recent NBC Today Show segment, Sands Research teaming with Buyology Inc. demonstrated the ability to go to the grocery store or other retail (mall) environments with the shopper. Not only recording the consumer's brain wave activity but also time synced with eye-movement (key advancement) to determine where in the aisle, shelve, product placement the shopper is looking along with their brain's response.

    Second, an important research article was just published in the August issue of Quirk's Marketing Research Review, where Sands Research joined with Ameritest, a well known copytesting / market research firm. In the study, we examined a series of fast food TV commercials to compare and contrast findings from our respective diagnostic approaches. The results proved that combining broadly accepted copytesting research with neuromarketing outcomes provide an enhanced understanding of the participant's response to the media.

    Since there are several neuromarketing firms in the US (and a few in Europe and Australia), the costs are dropping with the competition and are similar in price to standard market research studies (at least the EEG based firms are in this price range). Many well known brand owners are now incorporating neuromarketing in their research budgets. As for B2B, yes most of the neuromarketing technology has been applied in the B2C market but the expectation is that B2B will be adopting this research methodology soon.

    Many of us with years (decades) of work in the field of cognitive neuroscience are concerned about the "wild west" and unsupportable claims being made by some of the participants in this field. Discussions about ethical standards have been raised and are moving forward. Our knowledge of brain function is at the very early stage and anyone that claims they can identify a consumer's "buy button" has little or no crediblity among neuroscientists. The over hyped fear of "brainwashing" has not diminished from the very earliest days of advertising.

    Detailed information on all the above studies and facts about the science behind the technology can be found on our website - www.sandsresearch.com

    Thank you for bringing attention to an exciting new area where the advancements of neuroscience are being applied in the real world.

    --
    Ron Wright
    CEO
    Sands Research Inc.
    www.sandsresearch.com