Neuromarketing is an emerging field of marketing research that uses neuroimaging technologies to record consumers’ emotional, physiological, and neurological responses to marketing stimuli. Researchers use medical technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), steady-state topography (SST), galvanic skin response, eye tracking, and other techniques to measure sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective reactions to advertisements, product packaging, and other marketing materials. Marketers then interpret the data collected by these neurotechnologies in order to design marketing campaigns that better influence and predict consumer behavior.
The term “neuromarketing,” first coined in 2002, can be applied both to the neuroimaging techniques used to measure consumer responses to marketing materials and to the advertisements that are designed on the basis of this research. The basic framework underpinning the field is the theory that consumers’ decision-making processes are more strongly influenced by subconscious, emotional cognitive systems than by rational, conscious cognitive systems. These subconscious responses to advertisements are thought to be unquantifiable in traditional focus groups or customer surveys, thereby necessitating the use of neuroimaging techniques to measure consumers’ brain activity and other physiological responses to advertisements. Neuroimaging techniques are also thought to elicit more honest responses from consumers who might otherwise have compelling reasons to posture or give the responses that they believe are desired.
While neuromarketing techniques have offered advertisers useful consumer and market insights, the field of neuromarketing has drawn criticism for overstating its scientific and academic credentials. Some critics have pointed to the fact that few neuromarketing companies have published their research results in peer-reviewed journals, and many neuromarketing claims have not been backed by supporting evidence. In response, neuromarketing companies contend that they have not published their results in order to protect their proprietary research.
Much as the prospect of subliminal messaging did in the mid-twentieth century, the field of neuromarketing has also raised a number of ethical concerns. Neuromarketing insights have been applied to political campaigns and advertisements for prescription medications and junk food, prompting some critics to argue that it is intrusively persuasive and a threat to consumer autonomy. Other critics have highlighted the issues of privacy and confidentiality in neuromarketing research. While some neuromarketing claims have been overblown and the available technology is far from being able to read minds or predict future behavior, the field has offered advertisers important tools for interpreting consumer behavior.
—Mary Woodbury Hooper
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