Neuromarketing:  New research on brain indicators of engagement

You are shopping-- do you want the coffee in the blue can or the red package, the red sportscar or the classy steelgray Mercedes, the Irish Mist or the Jamieson, Coke or Pepsi? We make decisions continually throughout the day, mostly ourside our conscious awareness or at least without much logical reasoning. Interest in influencing consumers outside of their awareness probably can be traced to 1957 when Vance Packard published The Hidden Persuaders. The book claimed that marketer James Vicary (who coined the term "subliminal adverttising") inserted ads to "eat popcorn...drink Coca Cola," between frames in a popular movie. Although Vicary's research was never substantiated, it initiated both interest in brain influence as well as fears and cautions in consumers. Nonetheless, marketers spend a great deal on attempting to understand how people make decisions and how branding, advertising, packaging, etc., can influence those decisions to purchase (or vote for that matter). Over $1 billion dollars was spent last year on focus groups, the results of which were used to direct about $120 billion in advertising.

For decades marketers have sought to uncover customer responses to promotions through surveys, observation, and focus groups. While these reflect obvious, subjective and conscious indicators of preference, they have fallen short of  accurately and reliably reflecting what is going on inside consumers and their actual buying behavior. Although we like to think of our decisions as rational choices, there is much evidence that we are also influenced and make decisions unconsciously. Coined by Ale Smidts in 2002, "neuromarketing" utilizes recent developments in technology and physiological monitoring when people are exposed to products. For example, participants in such studies are hooked up to fMRI devices show mental activity as they are exposed to various products. Sometimes in contrast to their verbal preferences, the brain scan shows areas that light up that are more directly related to actual purchasing behavior. Although this is an emerging field, recent research shows very interesting and promising developments, and it has led market researcher Martin Lindstrom (author of Buy-ology) to suggest that the 2008 presidential election would be the last to use surveys as the predominant means of assessing presidential preferences. As with any new development there will be over-enthusiasm, mis-application, and faddism, so read with a critical view.

Parallel to developments in marketing are developments in science and particularly in brain science. The ability to monitor the activity of the brain in reaction to various external stimuli (e.g., products, pitches) is being frequently refined and studied. Recent studies are suggesting that when consumers are presented with various products or promotions, their brains present specific patterns that reflect preferences. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines like those found in hospitals are being reduced in size and portability, although it can still cost about $15,000 to test 20 participants. Popular books, new businesses, associations, conference and journals are touting this new science as applied to marketing, but there are equal concerns raised about applications beyond what is supported by evidence, as well as ethical issues regarding applications and manipulations.

In this unit we will examine neuromarketing (NM), its methods, claims, possibilities, and ethical issues. To guide your study, consider the following questions:

Questions to consider
 There are a lot of  resources below. Please check those with a red asterisk * first.

Introduction to NM

Popular applications-- Overreaching the evidence?

Critiques to NM

Ethical Issues
Related links
Neuromarketing companies
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