Thursday, June 17, 2010

Adbusters - Narcissism Is the Fast Food of the Soul - Advertising and Neuromarketing

Compelling article from Adbusters - the Compass (a UK think tank) argument is that we need to stop ALL marketing / advertising aimed at children younger than twelve. Young minds, the argument goes, are incapable of comprehending the tactics used to sell them toys, breakfast cereals, and other assorted crap that contributes to a variety of family and social issues (family breakdown, teenage alienation and premature sexualization).

I have no doubt that children are made more narcissistic through these advertising methods - (neuromarketing is WAY ahead of the average person's ability to comprehend what is being done to their brains) - but I suspect this is also true for adults.

Neuromarketing is a new field of marketing that studies consumers' sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli. Researchers use technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure changes in activity in parts of the brain, electroencephalography (EEG) to measure activity in specific regional spectra of the brain response, and/or sensors to measure changes in one's physiological state (heart rate, respiratory rate, galvanic skin response) to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it.

Marketing analysts will use neuromarketing to better measure a consumer's preference, as the verbal response given to the question, "Do you like this product?" may not always be the true answer due to cognitive bias. This knowledge will help marketers create products and services designed more effectively and marketing campaigns focused more on the brain's response. This makes neuromarketing and its applied results potentially subliminal.

Neuromarketing will tell the marketer what the consumer reacts to, whether it was the color of the packaging, the sound the box makes when shaken, or the idea that they will have something their co-consumers do not.

The word "neuromarketing" was coined by Ale Smidts in 2002.[1]

The Neuromarketing blog is a good resource for understanding these methods and how effective they can be in shaping our desires.

Narcissism Is the Fast Food of the Soul

Adbusters | 15 Jun 2010

Photo by Roderik Henderson, Transvoid: The Mental Desert

Photo by Roderik Henderson, Transvoid: The Mental Desert

Society has been discussing the negative effects of advertising for decades. But now, suddenly a real backlash is occurring with concrete changes emerging in countries around the world.

Sao Paulo enacted a near-complete ban on outdoor advertising in 2007 and Spain recently passed a new law restricting advertisements that promote the “cult of the body,” including slimming products, surgical procedures and beauty treatments. Restrictions on cigarette and alcohol advertising have marked significant victories in many countries, as have limits on advertising on children’s TV shows.

Now a report by the UK think tank Compass entitled “The Advertising Effect” is a bold call to further action.

Compass urges radical new policies to restrict and control advertising, an industry whose goal they say is, “the creation of a mood of restless dissatisfaction with what we have got and who we are so that we go out and buy more.”

The Compass plan of attack includes new taxes on advertisers and a complete ban on advertising in public places, all alcohol advertising and viral marketing. But it is their insistence that we outlaw advertising to children under 12 years old that is truly revolutionary.

Warning of the role advertising plays in family breakdown, teenage alienation and premature sexualization, Compass insists, “Children should be protected until their minds are able to cope with complex selling techniques – they should be free to be children not just consumers.”

It will be the next generations who will ultimately decide whether to proceed with our hyperconsumptive way of life or embrace a more sustainable standard of living. We must take all necessary steps to prevent their indoctrination and counter the effects of advertising.

The strength and scope of the trillion dollar a year advertising industry is frightening, but as awareness grows and tangible changes are seen, there is hope that its pervasive influence on our lives can be scaled back in the future.

– Staff

For more on neuromarketing, check out this PBS Frontline episode on The Persuaders. Here is the introduction.
neuromarketing: is it coming to a lab near you? by Mary  Carmichael

For an ad campaign that started a revolution in marketing, the Pepsi Challenge TV spots of the 1970s and '80s were almost absurdly simple. Little more than a series of blind taste tests, these ads showed people being asked to choose between Pepsi and Coke without knowing which one they were consuming. Not surprisingly, given the sponsor, Pepsi was usually the winner.

But 30 years after the commercials debuted, neuroscientist Read Montague was still thinking about them. Something didn't make sense. If people preferred the taste of Pepsi, the drink should have dominated the market. It didn't. So in the summer of 2003, Montague gave himself a 'Pepsi Challenge' of a different sort: to figure out why people would buy a product they didn't particularly like.

What he found was the first data from an entirely new field: neuromarketing, the study of the brain's responses to ads, brands, and the rest of the messages littering the cultural landscape. Montague had his subjects take the Pepsi Challenge while he watched their neural activity with a functional MRI machine, which tracks blood flow to different regions of the brain. Without knowing what they were drinking, about half of them said they preferred Pepsi. But once Montague told them which samples were Coke, three-fourths said that drink tasted better, and their brain activity changed too. Coke "lit up" the medial prefrontal cortex -- a part of the brain that controls higher thinking. Montague's hunch was that the brain was recalling images and ideas from commercials, and the brand was overriding the actual quality of the product. For years, in the face of failed brands and laughably bad ad campaigns, marketers had argued that they could influence consumers' choices. Now, there appeared to be solid neurological proof. Montague published his findings in the October 2004 issue of Neuron, and a cottage industry was born.

Neuromarketing, in one form or another, is now one of the hottest new tools of its trade. At the most basic levels, companies are starting to sift through the piles of psychological literature that have been steadily growing since the 1990s' boom in brain-imaging technology. Surprisingly few businesses have kept tabs on the studies - until now. "Most marketers don't take a single class in psychology. A lot of the current communications projects we see are based on research from the '70s," says Justine Meaux, a scientist at Atlanta's BrightHouse Neurostrategies Group, one of the first and largest neurosciences consulting firms. "Especially in these early years, it's about teaching people the basics. What we end up doing is educating people about some false assumptions about how the brain works."

Getting an update on research is one thing; for decades, marketers have relied on behavioral studies for guidance. But some companies are taking the practice several steps further, commissioning their own fMRI studies à la Montague's test. In a study of men's reactions to cars, Daimler-Chrysler has found that sportier models activate the brain's reward centers -- the same areas that light up in response to alcohol and drugs -- as well as activating the area in the brain that recognizes faces, which may explain people's tendency to anthropomorphize their cars. Steven Quartz, a scientist at Stanford University, is currently conducting similar research on movie trailers. And in the age of poll-taking and smear campaigns, political advertising is also getting in on the game. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have found that Republicans and Democrats react differently to campaign ads showing images of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. Those ads cause the part of the brain associated with fear to light up more vividly in Democrats than in Republicans.

That last piece of research is particularly worrisome to anti-marketing activists, some of whom are already mobilizing against the nascent field of neuromarketing. Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert, a non-profit that argues for strict regulations on advertising, says that "a year ago almost nobody had heard of neuromarketing except for Forbes readers." Now, he says, it's everywhere, and over the past year he has waged a campaign against the practice, lobbying Congress and the American Psychological Association (APA) and threatening lawsuits against BrightHouse and other practitioners. Even though he admits the research is still "in the very preliminary stages," he says it could eventually lead to complete corporate manipulation of consumers -- or citizens, with governments using brain scans to create more effective propaganda.

Ruskin might be consoled by the fact that many neuromarketers still don't know how to apply their findings. Increased activity in the brain doesn't necessarily mean increased preference for a product. And, says Meaux, no amount of neuromarketing research can transform otherwise rational people into consumption-driven zombies. "Of course we're all influenced by the messages around us," she says. "That doesn't take away free choice." As for Ruskin, she says tersely, "there is no grounds for what he is accusing." So far, the regulatory boards agree with her: the government has decided not to investigate BrightHouse and the APA's most recent ethics statement said nothing about neuromarketing. Says Ruskin: "It was a total defeat for us."

With Commercial Alert's campaign thwarted for now, BrightHouse is moving forward. In January, the company plans to start publishing a neuroscience newsletter aimed at businesses. And although it "doesn't conduct fMRI studies except in the rarest of cases," it is getting ready to publish the results of a particularly tantalizing set of tests. While neuroscientist Montague's 'Pepsi Challenge' suggests that branding appears to make a difference in consumer preference, BrightHouse's research promises to show exactly how much emotional impact that branding can have. Marketers have long known that some brands have a seemingly magic appeal; they can elicit strong devotion, with buyers saying they identify with the brand as an extension of their personalities. The BrightHouse research is expected to show exactly which products those are. "This is really just the first step," says Meaux, who points out that no one has discovered a "buy button" in the brain. But with more and more companies peering into the minds of their consumers, could that be far off?

Watch the episode online.

No comments: