Brain Scans Could Be Marketing Tool of the Future

Researchers at Duke University and Emory University have recently inspected one of the newer applications for brain scans: improving marketing efforts. Using sophisticated imaging of the human brain while it is subject to commercial stimulus could provide significant data for advertisers; but in their study, the researchers try to figure what is the best way to express the essence of products to potential consumers in a positive manner.
PET scan of a normal brain. (Source: US Department of Health and Human Services, via Wikimedia Commons)
PET scan of a normal brain. (Source: US Department of Health and Human Services, via Wikimedia Commons)

This new field, which combines traditional marketing with high-tech neurology, is called “neuromarketing”. It takes the tools of modern brain science, like the functional MRI, and applies them to the somewhat abstract likes and dislikes of customer decision-making. In a perspective piece appearing online in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke, and Gregory S. Berns of Emory’s departments of psychiatry, economics, and neuropolicy, offer tips on what to look for when hiring a neuromarketing firm, and what ethical considerations there might be for the new field. They also point to some words of caution in interpreting such data to form marketing decisions.

Up until today, marketers used quality control groups, surveys, and brainstorming in order to find the optimal marketing mix; all efforts were made to try and read people’s minds. While the new field offers the illusion of being able to truly read consumers’ minds, the interpretation of data should be done with caution, since brainwaves, graphical images, and other scientific measures do not convey exact information about purchasing preferences.

Although neuromarketing sounds much more exact than any other conventional method used today, it is much more expensive. Therefore, marketing experts estimate that focus groups (and other common methods) will still be used – at least in the near future. The ultimate purpose – of assessing existing products and the reactions towards various advertising forms – might be a step closer, but the gap between the conscious and unconscious reactions of consumers could never be fully bridged, says Ariely, until we learn how to exactly translate the patterns we recognize during the brain’s activity and our future actions. Until then, most chances are that neuromarketing will be used in conjunction with traditional methods.

TFOT has also covered new systems that allow using brainpower to control paralyzed limbs, developed at Northwestern University, and the international development of a new type of brain surgery, which uses sound waves.

For more information about neuromarketing, see the press release published by Duke University.

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