Monday, November 22, 2010

Your Brain on Ads


Vanessa is taking a break this week, so the following post comes to you courtesy of me – Katie Norwood. Nice to meet you all!

Vanessa and I were exchanging thoughts last week about a New York Times article that looks at “neuromarketing,” a new science that uses neuroscience to analyze people’s responses to advertisements, products and promotions. Neuromarketing testing techniques are poised to mine the untapped resources of the unconscious to help marketers understand more of what makes consumers tick. Perhaps predictably, marketers have embraced the science, the idea being that by learning how advertisements effect consumers’ brains, they will be able to tap into consumer’s subconscious in order to market more effectively, and sell more products.

Angling to maintain a competitive edge, a number of major corporations including Google, CBS, Disney, Frito-Lay and A&E Television have already embraced the neuromarketing techniques to test consumer impressions and responses. And they’re not alone in their support of the science. Proponents of neuromarketing contend that traditional market research methods are less effective because they are only measure participants’ opinions and impressions on a conscious level; and considering only 2% of the brain’s energy is expended on conscious activity and the rest is mainly devoted to unconscious activity, the importance of exploring the untapped unconscious is certainly significant.

A Controversial Approach

Technologically innovative though it may be, neuromarketing has been met with opposition from some consumer advocate groups, who have been quick to term the technique “brandwashing” – a clever combination of branding and brainwashing. Consumer groups have expressed concerned that the technique could be used to exert excessive influence over the subconscious mind, shaping consumers into robots without their consent and without any regard to the ethical implications of such action. However, as Singer’s article notes, scientists have expressed doubt that neuromarketing can trigger brain activity that can directly influence consumers’ buying behavior. The human brain, it seems, is much too complicated for such trickery.

But if neuromarketing could directly influence consumers’ buying behavior – what would happen then? Perhaps corporations would embrace neuromarketing wholeheartedly. Perhaps, over time, traditional advertising would be deemed outdated and obsolete.

On the other hand, if neuromarketing was able to successfully circumvent adults’ rational mental defenses, it might not be legally protected in the same way that traditional advertising is protected. And it might not be ethical.

What do you think? I’d love to hear what you think – you can reach me here or directly at

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