18 Mar 2010

Research, advertising and other imaginative uses of EEG

Ajith Menon, a good friend and an Account Planner, led me to an interesting article on neuromarketing and research by Hartosh Singh Bal at openthemagazine.com.

Simplistically put... neuromarketers map the consumer’s mind using electroencephalographic (EEG) sensors that measure brain-wave patterns produced by the firing of neurons in reponse to various stimuli. Then peaks and troughs are compared roughly like a lie-detector test to determine what stimulus worked best, and to some extent, on which centre of the brain - e.g taste, fear, lust, etc.

And advertisers are already on it! Fortune 100 companies are neurotesting products, packaging and design, and even advertising. It is seen as having the potential to replace that notorious guillotine of original thinking - the Focus Group. That's great news any way one looks at it.

But I still have reservations on two fronts:

1. The purveyors of the craft claim: “The data does not require interpretation of respondents’ comments.”

True. But it does need intrepretation of the EEG patterns. Laboratory test conditions - no matter how complex the simulation - simply cannot match the stimuli of real life context. So yes, the patterns are sub-conscious, but the very fact that they are being tested will alter the results to some degree. Now, to what degree is the a matter of debate and conjecture.

And by virtue of testing a sample, it is still the generalised extrapolation of the response of a few random individuals.

2. If advertising were measured solely on the basis of sub-conscious stimuli, the ones that will produce the most distinct 'spikes' in the pattern would be the ones that appeal to the most base drivers like hunger, fear and lust.

We've been there. And we've done that...

Beer commercials targeted at young men usually feature young women in bikinis. Fastfood advertising's foremost tenet is 'a feast for the eyes'. Anti-smoking messaging have illustrated the worst-case scenarios to strike dread into the hearts of smokers.

It works, no doubt.

But perhaps the question that begs an answer is this: What is it that we really need... Advertising that works better in research? Or research that works to produce better advertising?

If the obvious answer is the latter, then research committees and focus groups and neuroscientists and all the other sundry left-brain activities should focus on preparing the canvas on which the intuitive right-brain is unleashed.

Imagination and creativity are not about controls and patterns... Remember, even in the EEGs, the researchers are looking for unusually breaks in the regular pattern!

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