Commentary

The Limits of Neuro-Marketing's Impact on Advertising Creativity

As a cognitive anthropologist, who some 20 years ago traded backpack and quinine for Dramamine and a Hartmann three-suitor, I consult with marketers to assess the base beliefs and longings of various publics.

My method is to talk to people as people, not consumers. In that way, I learn about how they transform the world into their world. The twists of paradox, compartmentalization and irony are always exquisitely on display. Go humans!

By-passing Langauage- Straight to the Brain

Recently, a client asked me to work with a company that is using brain wave activity, or measures of blood flow in the brain, to assess central nervous system response to certain advertisements and products. The idea being to bypass consumers' language and rational thought in the name of metrics, and its lookalike, objectivity.

What I discovered was that no matter how good the scientists were at designing stimuli and reading fMRI results, the very best they could do for our client was to warn them what to eliminate from their ads. The advice garnered from peering under the consumer's skull could only suggest what NOT to do. Unfortunately, the data from their procedure could not help us to determine what TO DO to enhance an advertisement's effectiveness.

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Fear and Anxiety Measured

Fear and anxiety are what neuro-marketing technology is perfectly suited to measure, because it's hard-wired. For example, at the pre-conscious and non-linguistic level, the sight of a man sitting at a table in his garage working at a laptop evoked the same "negative" response from people of varied demographic categorization. Through various experimental manipulations of this image, it was discovered that "garage" had negative connotations, similar to that of a "basement" image - a place where dark things can happen. All such images were removed from subsequent public marketing pitches.

The most primal of emotional states is an individual's response to a perceived threat. Flight or fight. Instinct clicks in. Adrenaline flows, muscles tense, the heart beats faster. Blood pressure rises. No thought is required. The body does it all for you in the name of self- preservation.

Minimizing the Negative

Neuromarketing technology can help to minimize the negative. However, it cannot help to maximize the positive. That takes creativity and a holistic view of a person as a real human being.

A localized purchase-button deep inside the brain does not exist. The traverse from brain to behavior is a art-like process that blends data, emotion and belief that is then decantered into a person's personal brand of meaning.

2 comments about "The Limits of Neuro-Marketing's Impact on Advertising Creativity ".
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  1. Mike Bennett from United Church of God, January 13, 2010 at 8:41 a.m.

    Great article! (Might want to fix the subheads/paragraph breaks that all got run together...)

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 13, 2010 at 10:41 a.m.

    How many companies started in gargages, like Disney and HP? Guess the message is not in its meaning.

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