June 17th, 2002

Neuromarketing firm launched by Atlanta ad veteran

By Jim Lovel
Atlanta Business Chronicle

When it comes to marketing, forget focus groups and surveys. They are so 20th
century.

The founders of the BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences in Atlanta believe
the future of marketing research lies in something they call "neuromarketing,"
a technique that combines science and business.

BrightHouse Institute has begun using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a technology
traditionally used in health care to create images of activity within the brain,
to reveal how people feel about things, such as products and commercials, more
accurately than those people can explain their feelings in focus groups and
surveys.

"It’s a direct, unfiltered way to measure response," said Brian Hankin,
company president. "It eliminates all the biases that plague research."

The company claims that it is the first in the nation to offer the service
to clients. It has one client already, a publicly traded consumer products company
that Hankin declined to identify.

BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences was created about nine months ago
as a spinoff from BrightHouse, a marketing firm founded and chaired by Joey
Reiman, a veteran Atlanta advertising executive and a senior clinical associate
in the Department of Psychiatry and Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine
as well as an associate professor of marketing in the Goizueta School of Business
at Emory. Reiman also is chairman of the new company.

BrightHouse Institute’s first client financed a study of the procedure, which
was just completed. The company teamed with two scientists, one a professor
at Emory University and the other a researcher in the field of neuroimaging,
to conduct the four-month study. It included using an MRI at Emory University
to study the brain activity of eight people as they looked at different images.

"Likes and dislikes activate distinctly separate systems in the brain,"
said Justine Meaux, director of research for the company. "The differences
are striking."

BrightHouse learned enough from the study to begin offering the service to
other companies.

"We are on the extreme cutting edge," Hankin said.

BrightHouse is so much on the cutting edge that most experts in the marketing
research industry, including a professional association that represents the
industry, aren’t aware of the concept of combining marketing with neuroscience.

Hankin predicts it will change things.

Researchers have tried other methods of measuring brain response, such as monitoring
eye movement or measuring the electrical conductivity of the skin, a method
similar to the technology used in lie-detector tests. None of those methods
ever reached common use, said Ken Bernhardt, a professor of marketing at the
Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

There always were lingering questions of the validity of the techniques and
a relentless pursuit of people willing to submit to such extensive and invasive
procedures, Bernhardt said.

Using the MRI is a new approach to the problem, he said.

"I’m a skeptic but you never know until you try," he said. "The
true test will be if they can get some clients willing to try it."

Even if it works as well as the company predicts, it will augment traditional
research methods, not replace them, he said.

"It’s one more arrow in the quiver," he said.

It’s the most accurate arrow in the quiver, Hankin said.

"We can answer any questions marketers have and we can answer them more
efficiently," he said.

It’s not a difficult process. The company determines what a client wants to
know and develops a test that is administered to paid participants as their
brains are monitored by the MRI. The tests can be designed around any subject
and can utilize any of the five senses. The image produced by the machine tells
researchers if the person likes or dislikes what he or she is experiencing.

The tests are noninvasive and cost about the same as conducting traditional
focus groups or surveys, he said. Renting time on an MRI is expensive, but the
tests are so accurate that the company only has to use about one-third as many
paid participants, he said. MRIs are readily available for rent and the company
has found plenty of people willing to participate, he said.

 

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