NEWS22 March 2011

ARF reveals results from neuromarketing review and plans expert network

News North America Technology

US— Neuroscience is best used alongside traditional research methods, and with the advice of experts, the ARF said today as it unveiled findings from its review of neuromarketing techniques.

At its annual Re:think convention in New York, The ARF said it is now working on a second phase of the NeuroStandards project, with a view to coming up with standards for neuromarketing services. It is also establishing an ongoing ‘forum’ on the subject, and a network of dozens of independent experts to advise users of neuroscience-based research.

The study involved eight firms selling neuromarketing services: Innerscope Research, Mindlab International, MSW/Lab, NeuroCompass, Neuro-Insight, Neurosense/Decode, Sands Research and Sensory Logic.

With some companies making bold claims about their ability to get inside consumers’ minds, the ARF said it had become hard for marketers to tell whether the conclusions being drawn were credible or not.

The project looked at viewers’ responses to eight different ads for brands including American Express, Campbell Soup and General Motors. Methods on test included facial coding (studying facial expressions to read emotion), biometrics, facial electromyography (measuring muscle movement in the face) and various methods of brain-scanning.

One message came through loud and clear from the study: that neuroscience is an addition to – not a substitute for – traditional research methods.

The project was led by Duane Varan, chief research officer at the Disney Media and Advertising Lab. He told Research: “I think the most exciting outcome is the expert review network, because that really changes the structure of the market. Now clients have access to expertise in that area, whereas before they wouldn’t really have known where to go. It creates a different kind of dialogue compared to what’s already there, which is based on [vendors] having people on an advisory board.”

It’s also important, Varan said, that participating vendors had shown their “willingness to put their work up to scrutiny by peers”.

The ARF advised companies to bear a number of points in mind when using neuroscience to research advertising:

  • Fast-moving ads with lots of different images, sounds and text, will trigger complex reactions. This makes it hard to pinpoint viewers’ reactions to specific elements.
  • Our brains respond at different speeds to different kind of images: we might react quickly to an image of something threatening like a snake, but more slowly to an image of a pleasant landscape. Reactions can also be influenced by what was seen before, and reflect anticipation of what might come next.
  • Pinpointing specific emotions or intent to purchase is not as simple as measuring attention. Reactions in a particular area of the brain do not always mean there was a particular emotional response.

Varan said that some of the findings were about “recognising that we have to be careful not to feel too confident in the science that we’ve got”.

The ARF will be publishing a white paper in the summer setting out the details of the second phase of its NeuroStandards project.