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What Is Brain-Wave Marketing?

Scientists, in conjunctin with marketers, have been attaching electrodes to people's head to track what's happening in their brains as they look at products, or at commercials for products. The information gleaned in this way is then supposed to make it easier to design effective marketing campaigns. For example, Hyundai Motor America had 15 men and 15 women look at various parts of a 2011 car model for an hour total, recording what happened in their brains when they stared at each part. They plan to alter the exterior after reviewing the results of the electroencephalographs.

Forbes magazine recently reported that among the companies using this brain wave technology are Pepsi, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Ebay's PayPal. There are now at least eight companies that offer these services to help companies design there commercials and marketing campaigns. They use both EEG and MRI testing machines for the research.

Do they work? It seems that they can definitely see which parts of the brain light up with electrical activity when the subject is looking at various things. It also seems likely that there's some information to be discovered from this.

On the other hand, it is not a perfect technology. According to the article in Forbes (November 16, 2009), University of California (Santa Barbara) neuroscientist Craig Bennett put a dead fish through an MRI machine and it showed brain activity that looked suspiciously like that of subjects tested while watching commercials. Neuromarketers probably didn't want to hear that, or at least don't want their potential clients to hear about it.

The odds are good that this kind of research and subsequent marketing will continue. Their is already a new title for those who run brain-wave marketing testing: neuromarketers. It seems likely that despite the dead fish, who apparently preferred this or that brand of popcorn, there is some valid data to be found in the testing.

But even if we see that a person gets excited in the brain when looking at one style of packaging versus another, it isn't clear if this will translate into better sales. That's something that is harder to measure. Also, much of the information gained might be available much more simply and at lower cost.

For example, PayPal planned to sell potential customers on the speed of their online payment service, after seeing the results of neuromarketing tests. Apparently brain-wave marketing research showed that people were more excited by speed than additional security measures. But there was a simpler and much cheaper way to learn this: Talk to a few customers. They don't need to watch my brainwaves to know that I want more speed online. I'll tell that to any company that asks.

This kind of marketing based on brainwave patterns is almost certainly a fad at this point. Still, it will be interesting to see how it develops in the future (and I'll report any new information in the Brainpower Newsletter).

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