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OPINION21 March 2012

Have we learned to love neuromarketing?

Depending on who you have been listening to over the last few years, neuromarketing is either going to reinvigorate market research or make it redundant. Or it’s just a fad. But in this afternoon’s session on the science of the mind at the MRS Annual Conference, it felt like neuroscience might be gradually becoming accepted as another tool in a researcher’s box.

“Research has failed to capture true emotions.” That is the view of TNS’s global head of neuroscience Cristina de Balanzó Bono. But at the same time she conceded that neuromarketing is a “cottage industry” that “overpromises its deliverables” and suffers from a lack of buying expertise among clients.

But when old and new methods are combined, the results are positive, said de Balanzó Bono. A study on TV ads with two panels – one using neuroscience techniques and one using traditional techniques combined with biometrics – produced deeper insights than either would have done on their own, she said.

FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) has helped TNS predict behaviour change, and is the only way to determine reactions to brands when consumers go into ‘autopilot’ when shopping, she said.

Sparkler is another agency that has been using neuromarketing alongside more traditional techniques. Founding partner John Robson said: “It’s an addition not a subtraction in terms of available methodologies.”

There were words of caution, however, from long-time neurosceptic David Penn who warned researchers to beware of the “neuromaniacs” and their promises, highlighting recent books on the subject by AK Pradeep of NeuroFocus and Martin Lindstrom.

“If brains are in control,” Penn said, “then our free will is an illusion.”