“We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science.” – 1984, George Orwell

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” ~ Tyler Durden in Fight Club


workbuyconsume_article.jpgWhat’s the Imp on about now?
Last week, the FT published a piece about the ad ratings firm Nielsen buying up a neuro-marketing company, NeuroFocus. NeuroFocus is just one of many neuro-marketing companies – guys who track brain activity to see whether or not you like the new Bud (or whatever) ad… (“True”).

If you want to see a pitch from one of these companies, have a gander at the vastly uninformative Sands Research page – select Examples from the left hand bar and see how various adverts for the US primaries make their guinea pigs’ brains flutter. Ask yourself: what does this actually tell me? I kow you’re probably not a neuro-scientist, but remember, this is a pitch. It should show you something, if it can.

Now, all this raises a lot of questions for the Imp:

  • Since when did neurology get so advanced that they can tell whether activity in the amygdala means anxiety, fear or anticipation? That frontal lobe activity means happiness or an oncoming seizure?
  • How many brands are using this already?
  • How many ad men have neurology qualifications?
  • What kind of idiot takes part in this research?

a) Whoring your brain’s G-spot etc etc
Let’s look first at the simple bit: volunteering to take part in this research. Now, I don’t know about you, but I kinda feel that screaming “Yessiree”, and hopping into the MRI scanner with the enthusiasm of a lobotomised frankfurter is a tad sinister. (indulge me: I like the image). Hell, it’s all in the name of Coke/Bud/Starbucks/L’Oreal: where’s the harm?

Look, you short-sighted numbskulls (them, obviously, not you): why do you think they want you to whore away your innermost neurological responses? Jeez: if it was happening in an alien ship, you’d run. But no, it’s cool, cos it’s only about selling a bit of aftershave. Some people are pig-shit-thick, aren’t they?

b) The snake oil salesmen?
snake-oil.pngHow much truth is there in this anyway? I mean, how much “science”? Well, our first neuro-marketing chums, NeuroFocus, have – wow…scientists on their board. Who’da thunk it? They come from big grown-up institutions (hmm: I think in America, they depend a lot on private funds for research, don’t they?) like MIT and Berkeley. I’m not insinuating anything: it’s a genuine question. Any idea, anyone? Just looking for some transparency here.

Here’s what some very important scientists had to say in the New York Times recently, about neuro-marketing:

As cognitive neuroscientists who use the same brain imaging technology, we know that it is not possible to definitively determine whether a person is anxious or feeling connected simply by looking at activity in a particular brain region. This is so because brain regions are typically engaged by many mental states, and thus a one-to-one mapping between a brain region and a mental state is not possible.

The point is, yes, a certain part of the brain might get all hot ‘n’ bothered about hearing a can of Doctor Peppers being opened, but who’s to say what it means? Ick? Yum? Urgh? I’m Having a Masochism Day Today?250px-consumerism.jpg

As others have said, let’s find the marketing exec with a neurology PhD and they can explain it to us. In fact, what happens (as you can see in the Sands demo – you didn’t go see? Go!) is they say there is “stronger activity”, or “patterns of reaction” in a certain part of the brain. Yup. I can see that, too. But then they say that this part of the brain is about happiness, or that part is about unhappiness….remind you of anything – phrenology, perhaps? You know, C19th head-bump feeling?

c) So, is it being used?
Heeeelllllllll, yes. Funnily, going back to my new best friends, NeuroFocus, they don’t cite any clients on their website. Why would that be? Could the brands be a tad nervy about admitting they’re using humans like lab rats to …to sell more stuff? Flashing images in front of them to see how their brains react? Anyway, there’s an anonymised client quote (the same quote on every page: hmmm) and it says, “They [NeuroFocus] had thought through every single nuance or messaging, and performed a pilot study for us that opened all our eyes” – how very Clockwork Orange. A little digging found the following chaps have used neuro-marketing. Apparently.

  • theron.jpgGMTV , the UK’s most popular breakfast-time TV station appear to have used it to see how we respond to ads throughout the day to see when the brain was most receptive
  • You know that Christian Dior perfume ad, J’Adore, where Charlize Theron stalks down the corridor towards you, bathed in gold and stripping off? Yes, me too. Anyway, they tested the colours, music etc etc this way
  • Wrigley, Nike, Colgate, P&G…all at it

d) What’s next?
Who knows? This is just advertising. Just think of all the ways that this – if it works – can be used…..Tell me, what do you think?