December 22nd, 2003

As a Consumer Thinketh . . .

Christian Science Monitor

Coming soon to a billboard or TV commercial - advertising that has relied on
the brain scans of typical consumers to figure out their "buy buttons."

Simply using focus groups, surveys, or common sense just isn’t good enough
anymore for the marketing industry. Now it is eyeing a medical technology known
as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to see how people’s brains react to certain

The BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences, among others, is a leader in
this "neuromarketing research." Located in the neuroscience wing of
Emory University Hospital, the institute has its own Fortune 500 client and
is part of BrightHouse, an advertising agency whose clients have included Coca-Cola
and Home Depot.

Adam Koval, a BrightHouse executive, told the Canadian Broadcasting Company
last year that neuromarketing "...will actually result in higher product
sales or in brand preference or in getting customers to behave in the way they
want them to behave."

BrightHouse says the goal of these MRI scans is to help "identify patterns
of brain activity that reveal how a consumer is actually evaluating a product
or advertisement."

How Orwellian. Or, as Gary Ruskin of the nonprofit Commercial Alert, notes:
"The whole point of neuromarketing is to subvert thought, not encourage
it." He says medical experiments currently under way at Emory may have
violated federal guidelines for research on humans, and is calling on the government
to stop them.

One has only to think of how the tobacco, alcohol, and gambling industries
might exploit such research to further addict customers. Even politicians might
use neuromarketing to try to manipulate voters.

This biology-based marketing tool needs broad public debate before it moves
forward - with limits, if not an outright ban, to be considered.


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