What’s Neuromarketing?

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Neuromarketing uses fMRI to scan the brain’s response to products and ads. Critics fear it could be used for brainwashing and unhealthy products.

Neuromarketing uses Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) – a medical technology – to scan the brains of test subjects as they look at various products and advertisements. The idea is to discover what types of elements trigger positive neural responses. The information gathered in this research is intended to provide deeper insight into the human brain for purposes such as more effective advertising and brand loyalty campaigns.

Neuromarketing research began at Harvard University in the late 1990s by marketing professor Gerry Zaltman. Since then, Zaltman has patented another technique called the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET). Zaltman writes:

Although many leading companies are using neuromarketing and ZMET, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this research.

In December 2002, Adam Koval, former director of operations at the BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences — a leader in neuromarketing and affiliate of advertising agency The BrightHouse — told Marketplace that the practice “provides unprecedented insight into the consumer’s mind.” . Koval went on to say, “It will (really) result in higher product sales or brand preference or getting customers to behave the way customers want them to behave.”

Comments like this have made watchdog groups and others nervous, believing that marketing techniques are going too far, equating neuromarketing with brainwashing and behavioral control that could be applied in other fields to sell things like political agendas and advertising.

Critics also fear that young people are hard targets for unhealthy products that could result in obesity, pathologies, disease or addiction. This adds to the current epidemic of so-called “marketing related illnesses” such as anorexia, bulimia and type 2 diabetes. a way, as they see it, of subjugating the mind for financial gain.

A final troubling aspect of neuromarketing is the potential to effectively combine positive triggers with negative values. For example, selling violent video games by linking violence to messages or images that trigger positive neural centers. Some believe this could affect the overall character of the targets, creating a generation that grows up to be different people than they would have been minus these neural associations.

In July 2004, a non-profit watchdog group, Commercial Alert, went so far as to request a Senate and Federal investigation into neuromarketing. If such an investigation is carried out, the results may take some time.

There are those who believe that the concern about neuromarketing is unfounded and that manipulation only works for a short time before the public market adjusts and evolves. In fact, some don’t believe this type of marketing works. However, high-end customers who use these techniques – customers like Proctor and Gamble, Coca-Cola and Motorola, among others – seem to indicate that they, at least, think otherwise.

Whether neuromarketing is a tool for the consumer’s subconscious mind remains to be seen. However, the effects of these campaigns can be difficult to judge, as most companies are tight-lipped about using this research as a tool. However, even if neuromarketing-based advertising campaigns have been clearly identified, potential negative effects, if any, can be difficult to prove, as societal ills, trends and illnesses can be attributed to many factors.

Those involved in this type of marketing remain confident that it is a positive step in advertising that will help attract the right products to the right consumers, more precisely targeting the consumer’s wants and needs. Neuromarketers deny that it has negative effects or that it is capable of changing behaviors or exerting unwarranted control over consumers.

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