Neuromarketing: The Future of Advertising?


            As a Marketing major and a psychology minor, I have always been interested in people. I love to inquire about what makes people tick, why people like what they do, how people make decisions, and the like. It was in one of my senior year marketing classes, one that focused on advertising and promotions, that I first remembered hearing the term, neuromarketing. Just by looking at the parts of the word, you can get a sense of what neuromarketing is. Neuro, having to do with the brain, and marketing, having to do with positioning a product or brand to a customer, combine to mean "advertising to the brain."

            The science section of the online version of Time Magazine has an article called, The Brain: Marketing to Your Mind, which describes what neuromarketing actually is, what it is currently used for and what it may be used for in the future. The article, written by Alice Park, explains how researchers take high tech brain scans of volunteer's brain in order to examine what the brain looks like when a consumer is making a purchase decision. Quoted in the article is Dr. Gregory Burns, a psychiatrist from Emory University who says: "We can use brain imaging to gain insight into the mechanisms behind people's decisions in a way that is often difficult to get at simply by asking a person or watching their behavior." This process is currently being used in studies such as the following, which was conducted by Brian Knutson, a neuroscientist from Stanford University.

            Knutson brought in volunteers who were given $20.00 and shown pictures of 80 products followed by their price, all while their brains were being analyzed in a machine such as the kind you would be in for an MRI. Depending on which parts of the brain lit up when certain products were show to the subjects, Knutson, and other researchers like him hope to be able to predict what consumers are thinking just before they decide to make a purchase decision.

            Time Magazine's article states that this research is currently only being used for academic purposes, however the findings from this research have great implications on the future of advertising. The type of information provided from neuromarketing research could be considered the jackpot for corporations and their marketing/advertising departments. To me at least, there is no doubt that it won't be long before companies know exactly how we think and will utilize this information to more effectively sell to us.

            When thinking further about this topic, the Smeal College of Business came to mind and how much they pride themselves on their honor code and ethicality. One of the chapters that we go over in almost all of my business classes almost always has to do with ethics and how what we are learning is affected by ethical dilemmas. Neuromarketing almost immediately raised a red flag in my mind when it came to the ethical treatment of consumers and society as a whole. By scanning the brains of possible consumers and utilizing this information to try and more effectively sell products to people, business and corporations could easily take advantage of us.

              Further research on the ethicality of neuromarketing led me to an article posted on called, Neuromarketing: Is it Coming to a Lab Near You? The article, written by Mary Carmichael, discusses the fears of Gary Ruskin, a support of stricter advertising regulations. Carmichael writes: "Even though he admits the research is still "in the very preliminary stages," he says it could eventually lead to complete corporate manipulation of consumers -- or citizens, with governments using brain scans to create more effective propaganda.

            This is a scary thought. Nobody likes to be manipulated. Part of me wonders how this research would move forward if there were no volunteers who allowed their brain to be scanned in these studies. Although, as a marketer, I can't decide if maybe this could actually be helpful to consumers. If we know corporations are reacting to how our brains work, could we consciously think more thoroughly about our purchases? And maybe if they know how our brains work, the will really be advertising the products that are best for us.
          Where do you see this research going? Would you volunteer to have your brain scanned for these studies?.

neuromarketing - Time by Mark Hooper.jpg

Photo-Illustration for TIME by Mark Hooper

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