Neuroscience and Science-fiction

Posted by on Sep 10, 2007 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments


Mya’s done a nice piece for AdAge on the credibility of Neuromarketing today – what’s being done and what the basis of the pseudo science is. It’s well researched and catches up with some leading US practitioners (coming to your client’s reception lobby now) and the guy behind the original Brighthouse project that started the plague of half-arsed pseudo-science (but has now retreated to academe).

I particularly like the revelation that much of the early work so often cited by proponents was based on monitoring the difference between responses to different vegetables….and not brands or ads….

But most of all the piece makes clear how flawed it is to attempt to predict behaviour by looking inside someone’s head:

Indeed, in the view of some neuroscientists and marketing researchers, the notion that the human brain should be studied in isolation is deeply flawed to begin with. Measuring the brain’s reaction to a TV spot simply does not provide enough data to extrapolate future behavior. Studying how a person interacts within the larger culture is far more important.

‘There are many other constraints outside the brain that make us act the way we do,’ said John Winsor, VP-director of the cognitive and cultural radar department in Crispin Porter & Bogusky’s Boulder, Colo., office.

For example, does it make a difference if a test subject’s brain lights up while viewing a Hummer ad in Boulder, where ‘you feel guilty if you don’t drive a Prius, or where my parents live, in Cody, Wyo., where the norm is to drive a pickup truck?’

‘There are other factors that control how we are going to interact, and culture is a big one,’ he added.

Yup, Regular Herd Readers will have spotted the basic argument I’ve advanced here is laid out again…the major influence on human behaviour is other people (real or virtual, perceived or imagined) and not the volition of the individual agent.

Hope this is the beginning of the end of this nonsense. Seems as if it’s running out of steam from what folk are telling me.

Or is the lull before the storm? Are Neuromarketers like Daleks – seeking soom loophole in the space time continuum to survive and fight another day? Will they come back with Gastromarketing TM as their latest evil plot?

Tune in next week to find out


  1. Neuromarketing
    September 10, 2007

    I agree with your point about consumer behavior being hard to predict from a brain scan – but it’s hard to predict from a focus group or a survey, too.
    If neuromarketing has a problem, it’s that some seem to promote it as a panacea or magic bullet. At this point, it’s just another potential research technique that can be employed, and it’s in its infancy to boot.
    It’s only been a few months since neuroeconomists found a way to predict buying behavior ( with modest accuracy in a limited experiement.
    Personally, I’d like to see more emphasis on evaluating product features and design rather than ads. Getting a product right in the first place is a lot better than trying to boost sales of something people don’t want.

  2. John Winsor
    September 12, 2007

    Does Neuromarketing Work?

    Check out Mark Earls’ take on Mya Frazier’s article in Ad Age entitled, Hidden Persuasion or Junk Science?, in which I was interviewed. Here’s an exerpt: Indeed, in the view of some neuroscientists and marketing researchers, the notion that the

  3. mark Earls
    September 12, 2007

    Agree generally with the point about where and what to reserch, but unsurprisingly don’t think neuromarketing the right approach for this either…