Study to look at the uses and impact of neuromarketing
UK— Researchers at the University of Oxford are putting neuromarketing under the spotlight in a study of how it is changing market research and what this means for society.
As interest in neuromarketing grows, Professor Steve Woolgar (pictured) and Dr Tanja Schneider are to carry out a three-year project to better understand how these techniques are being applied to marketing and research, and how they will affect our understanding of how consumers make decisions.
Woolgar, chair of marketing at the university’s Saïd Business School, has previously studied how scientists go about their work, an area he describes as “anthropology of science”. This latest project is an “anthropology of neuromarketing”, he told Research.
The study will involve ethnographic research, interviews and a historical assessment of how various market research techniques have influenced views of consumer behaviour.
Woolgar said it will be “the first empirical study of how emerging neurological knowledge about human decision-making is transforming the techniques of marketers and others who seek to influence consumption behaviour”.
The ability of neuromarketing to influence our understanding of how decisions are made means a thorough understanding of this transformation is “quite urgent”, he said.
The study will also look into the possible implications for society and politics if consumers are seen to be less personally responsible for their decisions.
“Marketing is a very faddish activity, historically, and people are very keen to investigate all sorts of different technologies to figure out why people make purchase decisions,” said Woolgar. “We’re particularly interested in why [neuromarketing] seems to be popular now and whether it’s going to be accepted and established as a reliable technology, or go the way of some other previous attempts to understand these things.”
The project is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of a collaborative study into the impact of neuroscience on economics, marketing and philosophy, involving teams in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Neuromarketing is attracting more and more interest from marketers as a way of getting at the unconscious processes that lie behind consumers’ attitudes, feelings and behaviour. But doubts have been raised over whether all the services on offer really do what they say they do, or if they are being properly applied. An article in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry last year warned of questionable claims, oversimplification and a lack of transparency in a field whose academic foundations are “difficult to identify”.
The Advertising Research Foundation has sought to provide some clarity, and is currently in the second phase of a project to develop standards for neuromarketing, including the establishment of a network of independent experts.