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The Open Mind: Why Neuroscience May Not Save Advertising
By Erwin Ephron

Time flies and with it certainty. Or to make it personal, the older you get the less you know for sure.

Time flies and with it certainty. Or to make it personal, the older you get the less you know for sure.

In physics the wandering progression has been from Newton's Laws, which we sort of understand, to String Theory which we probably never will. In advertising we've gone from a process-model of simple measurements (reach, frequency, impact, sales) to a consumer-centric inkblot gestalt called Engagement, where describing what happens seems more important than figuring-out why.

We've learned that it isn't just how or how many messages are delivered that predicts sales. It's the way consumers emotionally connect with the message that make it work or not. Effective advertising, like beauty, appears to be created in the mind of the beholder. And Mind's last known address is in some part of the brain.

Brain Peeping

Better hold on to your head, because according to the scientists at Carnegie Mellon, we can eavesdrop there. They have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the parts of the brain that light up when people, stimulated by an ad, consider whether to purchase a product. And using these same measures of brain activity they claim to predict which consumers will choose to buy. This is the emerging field of neuroeconomics, which investigates the emotional processes that keep otherwise rational people broke.

But what may seem to be a eureka moment for advertising deals with only part of the puzzle. It gives us physical markers of emotional response which may predict future behavior. But it does not yet tell us how to produce that emotional response. It is perhaps a better measurement of message effects (since the sale itself depends on many other things). It may lead to a better kind of copy testing. But it is not yet a guide to more effective advertising.

Sigmond Was Here

We passed through a similar period in the 1950's with Motivational Research, which studied the hidden motives predicting behavior. There were no brain scans then, so it used Freudian discussion techniques to uncover the subconscious emotions that could be used to shape consumer response.

It turns out Motivational Research was an overclaim. Despite its appeal, there was one damning criticism from behavioral researchers who pointed to a planning disconnect. They argued that attitudes, motives, mental states

Erwin Ephron is an authority on advertising and the father of "recency planning." His fresh ideas about how ads work today have changed the way campaigns are planned throughout the world. Erwin

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