Posted by: goalpath | July 10, 2009

Mind Reading Technology Finds a New Application — Advertising

Every marketer has dreamed of being able to get inside their customers’ head and read their inner most thoughts about a product or campaign. In a recent episode of 60 Minutes, Leslie Stahl reported on the advances in neuroscientific methods which are making mind reading possible and commercially viable.  Using, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists can actually determine what you are thinking at any given moment in time. For the last 20 years, scientists have been doing comparative analysis by having subjects think about specific terms or topics and mapping brain activity associated with those specific thoughts.

Recent tests have demonstrated surprising accuracy when using fMRI in real time to determine what the subject was thinking about at any given moment. A 60 Minutes segment producer allowed herself to be scanned and was presented with 10 terms in random order to think about during the scan. The scientists reading her brain scan were able to identify her thoughts relating to each term in the order they were presented to her with 100% accuracy.

The ramifications of this technology are far flung and present significant ethical and legal questions concerning its use. In the past, advertisers and marketers have relied on market research techniques that utilize written and verbal feedback of various groups of typical consumers to gauge the effectiveness of a product, its packaging or its related advertising campaign. These techniques have been reasonably good at measuring the potential success of their marketing efforts. However, if they can fine tune their marketing messages by utilizing these mind reading methodologies, you can be sure they will jump on it in a New York minute.  And in fact, a number of them already have.

A company in England, Neurosense, was founded in 1997 to take advantage of the early stages of these methodologies and technologies. They represent themselves as the first of their kind in this emerging field. In the past, advertising and marketing agencies have relied on surveys and focus groups to measure effectiveness. In the new millennium, focus groups and consumer surveys are just the starting point. If you want to gauge the real potential of a new product, promotion, point of sale display or packaging, you will need to employ these new neuroscientific methodologies.

According to Professor Gemma Calvert, the Managing Director of Neurosense Limited, “Because so much of our thought occurs in the unconscious, traditional research methods that mine the surface are likely to miss many of the factors that influence consumer behaviour. Bridging the gap between mind and behaviour is thus one of the key challenges that face marketers today. Cognitive neuroscience now offers us a means to bridge that gap.” Procter and Gamble, Unilever, and a number of other major brands have engaged Neurosense and other market research firms utilizing this methodology to gain new insights into their customer thought processes.

Naturally, the use of brain research to sell products creates controversy. The naysayers believe that once the so-called brain button is identified, less scrupulous companies will find ways to use this science to lure unwitting customers into their lair and force them to buy products that may not want or need. They are especially concerned about products that lead to obesity, alcoholism, gambling, lung disease and other negative outcomes. Others believe that using medical equipment for commercial purposes crosses the line. Using science in marketing is not really new.

Advertisers and marketers have used psychological and medical measuring devices for years to gauge customer reactions to particular product products, promotions and advertising campaigns. Of course, using science to look into one’s mind does cross into new territory. The legal and ethical ramifications will be discussed and debated in the years to come and will probably never be fully resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Then there are other concerns about uses of this technology by the government, law enforcement, political candidates and in court testimony. You can imagine the controversies that will come to the surface once that can of worms is opened. We will leave that for another discussion topic.

So what do you think about this new advance in measuring consumer response? It’s your turn to tell me either on linkedin or on my web site. Baby Boomers can comment on our site, If you haven’t joined, please go ahead and sign up. We need all the Boomer opinions we can get. Our primary objective is to tell America and Washington what you really think. How else can you help influence the future direction of our great country. Thanks for your support.


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