“The trouble with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say”
– David Ogilvy
On Wednesday night, part of the Zeitgeist entity found itself at a Holiday Inn. No, it was not part of a dare. The Account Planners Group [APG] had chosen this venue in central London to host a conference on neuroscience, with specific reference to its application in marketing. Neuromarketing involves using tools, tasks or tests from the realm of cognitive psychology and neuroscience to measure non-conscious reactions in the brain to marketing stimuli. The use of the above image was made even more appropriate given that the organiser of these events goes by the name Steve Martin (I kid you not). AdAge recently featured a pretty good article on the subject.
Our host for the evening was Gemma Calvert. As Warwick University notes, “In 1997, Professor Calvert established the world’s first neuromarketing consultancy, Neurosense Limited, which has undertaken numerous fMRI studies for clients in the advertising, marketing and pharmaceutical industries. The company’s clients include Unilever, Viacom Brand Solutionts, GMTV, Omnicom, Quest International and McDonald’s Europe. This expertise has formed the basis for the establishment of a dedicated academic group at WDL which aims to help marketers and manufacturers understand how the brain responds to products/fragrances, brand extensions, packaging design and marketing messages.”
Ms Calvert began by talking of Descartes, one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, who espoused philosophies on the inherent superiority of human beings to primates, because we had the rational mind. But then, more recently, in the 90s, some dude came along called Damasio. Damasio claimed that we were at heart (or rather, in brain) emotional beings ruled by emotive impulses. This theory, it turns out, is closer to the truth. While our brains have expanded as we have evolved, our limbic brain sits comfortably over our reptilian one, and our neocortex rests on this. The cortex makes our rational decision for us, while the more base parts of our brain do the instinctive “fight or flight”, “must have sex now” stuff. Unfortunately for those supporting the rational part of our brain however, the cortex makes no decisions without consulting the limbic part, subconsciously. Our brain is unable to tune into all the information it needs to, so sometimes we block out things that we see as extraneous. This is dangerous as it can lead to unexpected dangers down the road (see global recession and the premise of Black Swan). It’s well-illustrated by the following video:
Remarkably, we even rationalise post-hoc, telling ourselves something we know is not true but forcing our rational mind to accept it. There is an excellent article here on the subject of confabulation (link updated 2014). Zeitgeist watched this video last night at the conference and did not believe that there had been a gorilla in the video the first time it was shown. Watching the YouTube video this morning, he now believes this is a different video that does contain bears in both clips. It is very unlikely that he is correct. Ms Calvert also highlighted the fallibility of focus groups, as evinced by the great Mr. Ogilvy at the beginning of this article. One of her more whimsical comments came after her statement that 97% of new products fail in Japan within the first 12 months (there are specific reasons for problems in this region). This despite months of testing, focus groups and general consumer research. Ms Calvert’s opinion was that you were just as – statistically speaking, better – off flipping a coin, as at least with that you had a 50-50 chance. Neuromarketing on the other hand can give you an insight into how consumers actually feel, rather than merely what they are telling you. The application for this study is done through eyetracking, fMRI scans and EEG. MRI involves the rather unnatural state of lying down surrounded by a gigantic magnet. Wearing fibre optic glasses, the subject can be shown pictures, movies, or even be given a joystick to engage on a virtual shopping trip. It can be used to study how a 30-second spot holistically effects the brain. EEG on the other hand can be used to examine how someone feels about something on a second-by-second basis, with a positive or negative timeline.
Ms Calvert also spoke briefly on behavioural economics. Zeitgeist has commented previously on behavioural economics – which, contrary to classical economics, argues that we are not all inherently rational beings making purely rational decisions – which is a methodology that, according to Ms Calvert, aims to effect large-scale population change. Thinkbox has the pleasure of hosting none other than Ogilvy’s very own Rory Sutherland on the subject on its website, video of which can be found here. These methodologies can help validate and measure effectiveness. It can help divine brand empathy, loyalty, liking and recognition. The findings were most interesting for subjects where the consumer was actually lying to themselves. When Dove tested to see whether they should enter the house cleaning market, those tested with neuromarketing revealed they were very turned off by such a notion, with their brains showing high signs of disinterest and even disgust. In focus groups though they told researchers they would be quite happy to consider buying such a product. Brain imaging better predicts intended purchases than what consumers actually tell researchers. How to reconcile these contrasts? Well perhaps the fact that fully 85% of consumer behaviour is driven by non-conscious awareness is part of it; we are not even aware of most of the decisions we make. Now neuroscientists are. Sounds like a movie I saw this summer…