Marketing That Gets Inside Your Brain

Sep 21, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

In the not too distant future, marketers may find hitting on the right marketing message is only a brain scan away.

Today, researchers are studying how consumers’ brain activity changes in response to ads and products with the goal of providing, as an article on the Web site puts it, “a more direct path to human decision-making.”

Companies such as Neurosense Ltd. in the UK are already using a combination of MRI scans and psychological testing to advance insights into the field of so-called “neuromarketing.”

Michael Brammer, chairman of Neurosense said, “Bridging the gap between mind and behavior is thus one of the key challenges that face marketers today. Cognitive neuroscience now offers us a means to bridge that gap.”

Understandably, not everyone is keen to the idea of marketers using neuroscience to sell products and services. Visions of brainwashed consumers responding in a Pavlovian manner to advertising messages come to mind for some.

Richard L. Peterson, MD of Market Psychology Consulting and a neuroeconomics researcher at Stanford University believes concerns about brain washing are unwarranted since there isn’t any evidence to suggest neuromarketing will ever be able to change consumers’ preferences.

“The average human brain has 100 billion neurons with 100 trillion connections among them, and we neuroscience researchers have only just begun to understand the structure of the brain and the mental life that arises within its mysterious workings,” said Dr. Peterson.

Moderator’s Comment: Even if it were possible to significantly influence shopping behavior based on neuroscience,
should marketers use that knowledge to get consumers to buy?

As we see it, Dr. Peterson’s point that we need not worry about brainwashing consumers because the time when that can be done may never come and at the
least is very far away misses the point. Addressing the ethical dilemmas needs to be done now, not when neuromarketing becomes a reality.

George Anderson – Moderator

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