Marketing: What Makes Us Buy?

A fast-growing industry called neuromarketing uses science to help marketers understand how we respond to products

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 3)

Marketers' use of neuroscience technologies has alarmed some consumer groups, mainly in the U.S., which fear that it could lead to the discovery of an inner buy button, which, when pressed, would turn us into roboshoppers. Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, an advertising watchdog group, says if neuromarketing boosts advertising's effectiveness even marginally, that's potentially dangerous. "We already have an epidemic of marketing-related diseases," ranging from obesity to Type 2 diabetes to pathological gambling," he says. An even more intrusive technology may be looming. Cambridge University computer scientist Peter Robinson led a team of people, including colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that developed software enabling computers to read minds. A video camera focuses on 24 facial features from which the software can often decipher a person's mental state, including comprehension, boredom and excitement. Robinson says the program could be used to find the right moment to sell someone a product online.

Walla rejects the idea of a buy button as "science fiction," and most researchers say the technology allows them only to observe how brains work, not to control them. Says Brammer: "I have got a lot of respect for the power of the human spirit to resist being manipulated." As proof, Smidts says, "a lot of advertising doesn't work. It's hard to persuade and influence people."

There's no shortage of academic debate over the merging of neuroscience and marketing. The journal Nature Neuroscience, under the headline BRAIN SCAM?, editorialized that too many practitioners' claims remain unpublished in peer-reviewed journals. But the dearth of published results is largely the result of businesses' wanting to keep their findings secret. Brammer admits that the data deficit leads to "some scientists interpreting what we're doing skeptically."

Can the marketplace be as effective an arbiter of quality scholarship as refereed journals? Perhaps. Deliver too many bad findings based on sloppy science, and you won't remain in business for long. Since Neurosense's revenues are up threefold in the past year, you don't need a brain scanner to see that neuromarketers will be attracting business for some time to come.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next Page