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Extracts From A Fuller Paper

Dr David Lewis BSc (Hons), D.Phil. FISMA, FINSTD, C.Psychol

For purchase details about the full report, please contact Neuroco

at 01932 844177 or e-mail

What is Neuromarketing ?

In a recent article On Measuring the Power of Communications, Dr Bruce Hall

commented that, over the last twenty-five years: “Copy-testing has not benefited

from significant innovation…Issues that emerged over half a century ago continue to

divide the industry.” (1)

During this same period of time researchers have discovered more about the

workings of the human brain than throughout the entire previous history of

psychology and neuroscience.

Their findings, combined with advances in technology and software

development, now make it possible to record and analyse what is going on in the

minds of consumers with a high degree of precision and sophistication.

The result is the new discipline of Neuromarketing, whose conclusions are

sufficiently reliable to take their place alongside more traditional market research

methodologies, offering both confirmation for their findings and invaluable

additional insights into the mental processes underlying consumer decision making

and behaviour.

As with neuroscience in general the ultimate goal of Neuromarketing is to

understand how the brain produces behaviour. Fundamentally, therefore,

Neuromarketing is a biological science. It is the study of how humans choose and

such choice is inescapably a biological process. Truly understanding how and why

humans make the choices they do will undoubtedly require a Neuromarketing

(1) Journal of Advertising Research Vol 44. No 2. June 2oo4. pp 181 - 187

How is information about brain function obtained?

Two main forms of brain activity analysis are currently used in Neuromarketing

– fMRI and QEEG. Although at Neuroco we do not believe, for reasons which will be

explained in a moment, that fMRI will make a significant contribution to market

research, since it is currently being used for this purpose the approach will be briefly

described here.

The acronym fMRI stands for functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging a

technique which uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to create high resolution

images of the living brain.

Developed in the early 1990s fMRI is a variation of magnetic resonance imaging

which takes advantage of two phenomena. The first is that blood contains iron (the

oxygen-carrying part of haemoglobin) inside red blood cells and these atoms cause

small distortions in the magnetic field around them. Secondly, when any part of the

brain becomes active, the small blood vessels in that specific region dilate, causing

more blood to flow into that region so as to provide the additional oxygen and fuel

(glucose) required by these more active brain cells. As a result a large amount of

freshly oxygenated blood pours into any active regions of the brain reducing the

amount of oxygen-free (deoxy-) haemoglobin and causing a small change in the

magnetic field and, consequently, in the MRI signal, in the active region.

The result is usually displayed as a patchy area of colour, representing the brain

area activated, superimposed upon a conventional, high-resolution, grey-scale

image of the subject's brain. Although undoubtedly seductive the colourful brain

images produced are the result of high level computer processing and cannot be

interpreted “without a detailed understanding of the analytical methods by which

they are generated.” (2)

(2) Nature Neuroscience 7, page 683 (2004)

How has fMRI been used in Neuromarketing?

Although still not widely used, two well publicised examples are a study at

Baylor College of Medicine in Houston which showed that the brain registers a

preference for Coke or Pepsi similar to that chosen by the subjects in blind taste


In another study, conducted by Richard Silberstein a neuroscientist with the

Brain Sciences Institute at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne,

Australia, it would found that successful advertisements generate both high levels of

emotional engagement and long-term memory encoding.

How viable a technology is fMRI in Neuromarketing

While fMRI provides a detailed record of brain activity at any particular time the

procedure is fraught with problems when it comes to using it for the purposes of

commercial Neuromarketing research.

MRI scanners are large and cumbersome pieces of equipment which must be

used within specialist locations such as hospitals or clinics.

Only one volunteer can be tested at a time and for many the experience may

prove so disagreeable they are unable to continue. Although the process is

considered absolutely harmless the noise made by the machine causes many patients

to feel uncomfortable while any who are even mildly claustrophobic may panic.

Worldwide some 7 per cent of patients scheduled to receive a brain scan for

medical reasons prove unsuitable for this reason. Even when only mildly

apprehensive their heightened arousal seems likely to have a profound influence on

responses to commercial messages which have to be directed onto the volunteers’

very limited field of vision either using a mirror or goggles equipped with miniature

television screens.

The individual is instructed not to respond to what she, or he, sees and hears

with any sudden movement since this will distort the scan. All of which means, of

course, that the surroundings are highly artificial and seem likely to introduce a

significant bias into any results.

As a recent article in Nature Neuroscience commented, the results are:

"Invariably produced under controlled laboratory conditions and it is a major leap to

extrapolate to a genetically and culturally diverse population of people in an almost

infinite variety of real world situations."

QEEG – Quantified Electroencephalography:

Interest in using QEEG for market research goes back to at least the early


The difference between these early studies and the approach which I have

developed over the past twenty years lies in the ease with which information can be

both obtained and analysed.

Evidence from brain imaging methods such a Electroencephalography (QEEG)

and event-related potentials (ERP) analysis, topographic QEEG and statistical

probability mapping has unequivocally established that aspects of consumer

cognition and emotional responses to commercial messages, occurring below the

level of conscious awareness, can be successfully monitored in real time and

analysed with sufficient depth and accuracy to provide an invaluable window on

their inner decision making processes.

Of all the imaging modalities currently being employed in the fledgling field of

Neuromarketing QEEG, is the most practical, convenient and cost effective using

relatively simple and compact equipment capable of quantitatively assessing brain

activity with a high degree of sensitivity and temporal resolution.

If it is so powerful why has Neuromarketing been so slow to establish

itself in market research?

There seem to be three main reasons. First, the early studies, which were based

on visual inspection of conventional EEG paper traces, were viewed as too non-

specific to be of any genuine commercial value. Second, a majority of recent

academic papers reporting significant results have been published mainly in

specialized electrophysiological or brain research journals which, unsurprisingly, are

not generally read by market researchers. Finally there is the suspicion, discussed

below, that there is something sinister about measuring brain activity directly rather

than through the filters of questionnaires, surveys and focus groups.

How does Neuromarketing fit in with more traditional research


Despite its undoubted power and ability to provide unique insights, on a real

time basis, into brain function during exposure to commercial messages of all types,

it is not my contention that QEEG – in the light of current knowledge - should be

seen as in any way replacing current research methodologies. Rather it should be

seen as offering an adjunctive tool capable of providing market researchers,

advertisers and brand managers with invaluable additional information that could

not be obtained by other procedures.

While Neuromarketing should be regarded as an adjunct to, rather a

replacement for, established market research techniques, it has the ability to open

windows on the human mind that would otherwise remain closed to even the most

determined and skilled inspection.

As cognitive psychologists George Lakoff and Rafael Nunez rightly point out:

“Most of our thought is unconscious – that is, fundamentally inaccessible to our

direct, conscious introspection. Most everyday thinking occurs too fast and at too

low a level in the mind to be accessible. Most cognitions happen backstage.”

(Lakoff & Nunez, 2000)

What ethical issues are involved?

In the minds of some, Neuromarketing raises disturbing questions about the

extent to which advertising agencies, market researchers and their clients should be

allowed to invade the privacy of consumers and the supposed power this will give

them to manipulate purchasing decisions.

Gary Ruskin, who heads Commercial Alert, the Portland, Oregon based

consumer rights organisation founded by Ralph Nader, for example, is reported as

saying: “Even a small increase in advertising efficiency could boost advertising-

related diseases such as obesity.” (3)

Alarmist comments such as these combined with sometimes overly sensational

press stories have served to heighten the Orwellian distrust felt by some about these

procedures. Such fears unfounded fears arise from a misunderstanding of the

complexity of the human brain and the limits of current technology.

As I wrote recently in Research, the journal of the Market Research Society:

“No reputable neuroscientist would claim that we are capable of either explaining

or predicting real world decision making and the idea that the procedure will enable

us to identify a “buy-button” in the brain is utterly implausible.” (4)

Contrary to a popular belief, therefore, Neuromarketing will never allow

unscrupulous companies or individuals to manipulate the minds of consumers or

make it possible to devise an “irresistible sales pitch” for products they neither like

nor need.

What it can do, however, is to improve the ways in which companies create and

disseminate their commercial messages so as to make them more immediately

interesting, appealing and valuable to the target audience.

In the words of US Neuromarketing specialist Joey Reiman: “Our goal is to

change company, not consumer, behaviour.” (4)

(3) Cited in “They Know What You Want” by Emily Singer, New Scientist, 31 July, 2004.

pp 36-37

(4) Research, August 2004. Issue 459. Pages 16-17

(5) New Scientist, 31 July, 2004.

What services does Neuroco offer ?

The many types of market research information which Neuroco is able to

provide include:

1] Identifying which one of several early edits - or animate versions - of a TV is

most likely to be memorable and generate positive emotions towards the brand.

2] Reveal the extent to which viewers are processing the information in an

advertisement logically and analytically or imaginatively emotionally.

3] Indicate the extent to which viewer attention is maintained at the point of

branding in a radio or television commercial occurs.

4] Track subconscious responses to different package designs.

5] When used in conjunction with eye-tracking equipment identify which

specific aspects of flat art advertising, such as a billboard or magazine display, is

most and least engaging attention.

6] Measure the extent to which accompanying music adds to or subtracts from

the overall intended message.

7] Reveal what is happening in the consumers mind as he, or she, studies

different design features for a new product, new idea of a car, a computer or hi-fi.

8] Show whether a target group is more likely to prove receptive to visual or

auditory messages.

9] Indicate the colour most likely to be successful with a new product.

10] Demonstrate the extent to which a window display will capture the attention

of passers-by and generate a desire to make a purchase.

11] Reveal subconscious responses to a new fragrance, aroma or flavour.

12] Confirm findings from other types of market research, such as focus groups,

surveys and “interest lever” studies.


For purchase details about the full report, please contact Neuroco

at 01932 844177 or e-mail