Monday, March 3, 2008

This is Your Brain on Brands

The Neurocritic has a refreshingly skeptical post about neuromarketing:

Advertisers, neuroscientists combine forces to produce outlandish headlines:
Advertisers, neuroscientists trace source of emotions in brain
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — First came direct marketing, then focus groups. Now, advertisers, with the help of neuroscientists, are closing in on the holy grail: mind reading.

At least, that’s what is suggested in a paper published today in the journal Human Brain Mapping authored by a group of professors in advertising and communication and neuroscience at the University of Florida [Morris et al., 2008].

Not only outlandish headlines, the holy grail of "mind reading" is within the grasp of their PR department. more...
I've been following the neuromarketing thing for a few years now (Google alerts be thanked). The story of neuromarketing actually started with the Pepsi Challenge ad campaign. People in a blind taste-test actually do prefer the taste of Pepsi. So why so people still prefer to buy Coca-Cola?

To answer this question, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was put to use, measuring the activated parts of the brain of cola drinkers.

From Frontline's The Persuaders:
Coke "lit up" the medial prefrontal cortex -- a part of the brain that controls higher thinking. Montague's hunch was that the brain was recalling images and ideas from commercials, and the brand was overriding the actual quality of the product. For years, in the face of failed brands and laughably bad ad campaigns, marketers had argued that they could influence consumers' choices. Now, there appeared to be solid neurological proof. Montague published his findings in the October 2004 issue of Neuron, and a cottage industry was born.

Neuromarketing, in one form or another, is now one of the hottest new tools of its trade. At the most basic levels, companies are starting to sift through the piles of psychological literature that have been steadily growing since the 1990s' boom in brain-imaging technology.
There is a great deal of hype in the field of neuromarketing. (They're marketers after all.) For a recent example, here's a press release excerpt on the brainwaves of subjects watching Hillary and Obama YouTube ads (see if you can spot any selection bias):
Researchers found that the Obama "Yes We Can" viral video generated the highest brain response.

The study involved 25 subjects under 30 years of age who were tested using caps with electrodes that are linked to electroencephalography (EEG) equipment, which measured and recorded brain activity in millisecond increments.

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