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Mind control: Neuroscience in marketing

Mind control in marketing.

You may have seen the movie Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise, in which, armed with the knowledge gained from neuroscience, police can read the minds of people. In one scene, it shows a retail store recognizing by eye scan people coming into the store and retrieving data on that person.

Fiction? Like all science fiction, we may be getting closer to the truth in a new field called neuromarketing. Knowledge from neuroscience has emerged as one of the biggest breakthroughs in business—particularly marketing and advertising—in decades.

Neuromarketing is a new field of marketing that studies consumers' sensimotor, cognitive and affective response to marketing stimuli. Many companies, including Google, CBS, Disney, Frito-Lay and others have extensively used neuromarketing services.

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Roger Dooley, author of Brainfluence: 100 ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing, describes in detail how companies can use neuroscience research to better market to consumers.

In an article for Forbes magazine, Melanie Wells describes how a century after Coca-Cola took cocaine out of its flagship beverage, neuroscientists are learning that soft drinks still work like illicit drugs, as does fat, salt and sugar on our brains.

Businesses are continually developing strategies to build stronger consumer loyalty and boost brand recognition. Sophisticated marketers are now using eye-tracking technology or data analytics monitoring read time consumer preferences in efforts to improve marketing effectiveness.

Dan Hilll, author of About Face: The Secrets of Emotionally Effective Advertising (and author of his previous book, Emotionomics) and founder of this company, Sensory Logic, has focused on what neuroscientists call "microexpressions,"—consumers' facial expressions—that provide specific practical data for marketers.

In an article in the New York Times, by Natasha Singer, "Making Ads That Whisper to the Brain," she argues that because most of our brain's activity is unconscious, neuromarketers believe that traditional surveys and focus groups are inaccurate. She cites the view of Dr. A.K. Pradeep, of Neurofocus, a neuromarkting firm, who contends that for marketing pitches to consumers to work, they need to reach the unconscious levels of the brain.

One of the most significant developments focuses on the connection between neuroscience research and the marketing is how to measure what consumers are feeling. This is based on the assumption t hat consumers connect strongly to brands and products that make them feel strong emotions.

Technology is developing rapidly. Biometrics such as retinal scans, voice files and finger prints could one day make passwords obsolete. So too are biometrics and technology emerging in the gaming industry with newer games focusing on emotional experiences by users. For example, Flower, which is a PlayStation 3 video game, intended as a "spiritual successor" to Flow, a previous game. The game features no text or dialogue, formaing a narrative arc primarily through visual representation and emotional cues. Flower was primarily intended to arouse positive emotons in the player, rather than being a challenging or fun game.

NeuroSky, a U.S. firm which has developed brainwave technology which has been used in a product called Star Wars Force Trainer, lets users float a ball in a tube by concentrating their thoughts through a headset. Force Trainer's headset is a simplified version of EEG medical technology, and the ciruitry translates the signals into physical action. Similarly, Chaotic Moon Labs Inc., has developed a skateboard which is controlled through the user's mind using a headset, using the same drive system as the Samsung Board of Awareness skateboard. The integrated Emotiv EPOC headset is worn by the rider and translates their brainwaves into actions.

Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, argues that new research reveals how marketers and advertisers intentionally target children at increasingly early ages, including while still in the womb. Lindstrom contends marketers stoke the flames of public panics and paranoia over global contagions, extreme weather events and food contamination scares, and cites neuroscience research that shows our addiction to smartphones can be harder to shake than addiction to drugs. He describes how many companies are mining consumers' digital footprints to uncover the most intimate details of their private lives so they can individually tailor marking information.

Not that there are no skeptics or critics of using neuroscience for marketing purposes. Paul Root Wolpe, a bioethicist and director of Emory University Center for Ethics, contends neuromarketing is questionable science based on the mistaken belief that triggering certain brain activity can actually cause people to behave certain ways. The British ethics group, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, is now studying the ethical threats caused by such technology.

Two things are for sure. First, the majority of businesses have yet to tap into the practical applications of neuroscience research either in terms of dealing with customers or employees. The second is the low level of public awareness regarding the use of unconscious marketing and advertising by companies using neuromarketing strategies.

Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.

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