Neuromarketing Isn’t Quite There Yet

Advertising Research Foundation notes flaws and benefits

The quasi-science of measuring emotional responses to advertising has made gains but still has a ways to go before it's not considered experimental.

Yes, neuromarketing reveals what the conscious mind often conceals. And, of course, advancements in technology make it easier for researchers to record, for example, how the brain reacts to ad messages. Interpreting such reactions is complicated, however, and—not withstanding claims of major breakthroughs in recent years—neuromarketing, like advertising itself, is far from an exact science.

The stimuli in ads are abundant—images, music, words, etc.—so it's difficult to pinpoint what the brain is reacting to, according to preliminary findings on neuromarketing that the Advertising Research Foundation unveiled today. Also, such research is expensive, so the samples tend to be small. As such, it's harder to make broad-based conclusions.   

In short, the discipline is not the silver bullet that some might have you believe. Accordingly, ARF executives Robert Woodard and Horst Stipp recommend that marketers use neuromarketing to complement but not replace more traditional forms of research. 

That doesn't mean, however, that advertisers should eschew the new kid on the research block altogether. In fact, neuromarketing is particularly useful during the creative development phase of advertising before the ads get made, Woodard said. "Do what you're able to do, but do something," he added.

The ARF's findings arose from the NeuroStandards Collaboration Project, a joint venture of ARF, marketers, media owners, and ad agencies that began last year. American Express, Chase, MillerCoors, Clorox, Campbell Soup Co., Colgate-Palmolive, ESPN, NBCUniversal, MTV, Publicis Groupe, and Dentsu are among the participants.

A white paper on the first phase of the project is due later this fall.