Mike Fromowitz
Jan 25, 2013

Searching for the brain’s buy button

It’s the year 2030. Or is it?I lie inside a long metallic tube, a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (an fMRI for short), and every 0.5 seconds it scans the blood-flow activity in my ...

Searching for the brain’s buy button

It’s the year 2030. Or is it?

I lie inside a long metallic tube, a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (an fMRI for short), and every 0.5 seconds it scans the blood-flow activity in my brain. My head and torso are wired with sensor nodes. I am wearing a set of cutting edge consumer video eyewear that enables me to watch streaming video commercials on a virtual16:9 widescreen 75-inch display.

The results of the test are being fed into a bank of computer monitors to a room where white-coated technicians and marketing researchers observe my thinking patterns. One monitor runs the same video commercial I am watching. Another monitor displays the inner workings of my brain in which a host of bright rainbow colours flare up and and down or fade away.

Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 12.35.32 PM

Suddenly one area explodes in a burst of red. To the technicians watching, it means that I saw something in a BMW commercial that I liked, stimulating a part of my brain that could later influence my buying decision. This part of the ad worked.

But 16 seconds later, at about the 49-second mark, another part of my brain that processes negative thought begins to light up and turn a brilliant yellow. A few more seconds after that I begin to lose interest in the subject all together, and the colour goes to grey. One of the technicians turns to the researchers and points to the screen. “This is exactly the point in the commercial where everything falls apart. I recommend your client fix it beginning at this 49-second mark.”


What the ad agencies did in 2014

In 2014, several advertising group companies, eager to take back ownership of the consumer, were hungry to prove to their clients that they were equipped with fresh new insights into the minds of their target audiences. They joined forces with research firms that offered new and controversial cognitive science techniques that could delve deeply into how people feel, think and react to ads, and measure the social, financial, and environmental ROI of their programs and operations.

They called this new research Neuromarketing Science, and by 2030, Forbes Magazine Online declared the industry had about 150 global advocates competing for a piece of the annual $50 billion spent on Neuromarket research. Worldwide, Neuromarketers were psycho-analyzing consumer cerebral activity, peering into emotions and sensations, analyzing them and gaining new insights into consumer behaviour and their motivational patterns.

Several ad agencies had stopped offering advertising to their clients altogether, preferring to specialize in the more lucrative Neurotesting market. Some of the big media groups and consumer-statistic companies also moved to brainwave research.

Neurotesting had become paramount before the launch of any marketing campaign. When tests of a video spot showed a drop in attention, the client would make the necessary changes to eliminate any negative emotions, boredom or disinterest, and keep their consumers fully engaged.


Neuromarketers claim their measurements are far more cost-effective, efficient and precise than focus groups

According to Neurotesting research done in 2015, consumer purchasing decisions are rarely due to logic and language. The conscious mind is too slow. On the other hand it is the subconscious reactions that are measured. When those areas of the brain light up in brilliant orange colour, the researchers know the person is experiencing emotions that say ‘I want.’

Before I was tested, I saw a Google ad for a Neuromarketer claiming that their “biometric measurements were far more cost-effective, efficient and precise than traditional surveys and focus groups”. They also claimed that the old school of testing was inherently flawed as participants refused to tell the truth for ego, social or cultural reasons. “Traditional focus groups,” the ad claimed, “can never pick up the feelings we see with Neurotesting.”

Neuromarketing never made the claim that they could make a consumer rush out and buy stuff they didn’t want. But they did claim that their research findings could help craft a more compelling message.


Neuromarketers can’t embed a ‘buy-button’ in your head

So there I am, in this black tube, the fMRI machine on autopilot as it measures my every emotion. I had agreed to the test because I knew that Neuromarketers can’t embed ideas or control your thoughts. They had no ‘buy button’ to press in the brain, but they sure were spending lots of money to find one. At this very moment, my emotions are running high, past the orange level, sounding alarms at every level of this BMW commercial they are testing.   My trust level has dropped to its highest level of 78%.

child heads with symbols

The rational vs the emotional

For decades, most marketers dismissed emotion as non relevant to marketing and continued their strong belief that consumer buying patterns were mostly based on reason and rational choices. By the year 2000, they were creating advertising that touched both the rational and emotional. By 2020 they had all concluded that emotions play the leading role in human sciences and behavior.

Back in the room of technicians and researchers, the computer monitors are now analyzing streams of data to provide the information the brand companies required to reexamine their past approaches or to figure out where they failed to connect. This information will reveal certain attitudinal variables which will lead them to a better understanding of the emotional ones at hand: Attachment, Trust,  Identification, Commitment, Attitude, and Satisfaction.


The famous Dr. Matrix (1947 - 2028), R.I.P.

For a moment, I am reminded of Dr. Marvin Matrix, the leading Neuroscientist of our time. (He passed away in 2028). The famous doctor had stressed that, “Unless Neuroscience research findings are implemented in your marketing plans, you can not expect much of a relationship with a consumer.”

Back in 2017, Dr. Matrix had been involved with a company that marketed a global beer brand. Over the years they had seen a steady decline in sales. The results of their ad campaign, which ran both in traditional and digital media, had very little effect when it launched. Dr. Matrix and his team of Neuroscientists were commissioned to gauge consumer reactions to the brand, a category that contributed over $2.5 billion to the company’s annual sales.

Using first generation Neuromarketing science technology – the prototype to what I was wearing for today’s test – Dr. Matrix and his team tested about 100 people (mostly men) of different ages for several days, capturing changes in heart rate, breathing, and skin temperature. These signals were transmitted to a central lab of computers where streams of data were crunched using algorithms and then aggregated into an index of emotional engagement.

The research found that the majority of participants expressed warm feelings about the brand, however, these feelings were overcome by stress at the store from shopping for the beer. There was a disconnect between how people felt about the brand and how they felt when shopping for the brand.


Dr. Matrix’s investigations had concluded that seventy-five percent of all consumer decisions were made inside the store, “mostly due to impulse buying decisions that goes on in the aisles. Retailers,” he claimed, “should create more ideal conditions for a wallet-opening experience.”

As a result, the brand engaged in a major label redesign to remove any unfavorable emotional triggers. The Neuromarketing research had brought objectivity to the creative-development process, and to the marketer’s overall strategy, and the net result was more effective branding and advertising.


Neuromarketing: a form of brainwashing or new marketing missile?

For some time, I had considered Neuromarketing to be a form of brainwashing, but as more and more positive research was done, I found myself becoming an advocate of the process. For years I had considered focus groups to be invasive too, and blamed  that type of research for so much bad advertising in the marketplace.

Since 2018 traditional marketing and advertising, digital and social media, have all been turned on their heads. They’ve been neutralized by Neuromarketing. Over the years they gradually yielded their power to this new marketing missile – one that unlocks consumer perception and decodes the consumers’ deep DNA motivators enabling advertising campaigns to achieve maximum impact.

I awake in a cold sweat and I cannot get back to sleep. I turn and reach for my iPhone. I click on my calendar app and it reads, December 6, 2012. I’m back.

Now the question is, how best to tell my advertising and marketing colleagues of the coming opportunities that Neuromarketing offers up.

Mike Fromowitz





Related Articles

Just Published

5 hours ago

Coles CMO Lisa Ronson departs

The marketer announced she will leave by the late September. The news comes just one week ahead of Coles delivering its full financial results for 2022.

10 hours ago

How Western commerce platforms increasingly look to ...

SHANGHAI ZHAN PODCAST: Western commerce platforms such as Amazon remain distinctive, but are taking on more characteristics from their Chinese counterparts, says Victoria Glanz, who runs European operations for Chinese commerce company Fulljet.

10 hours ago

The many misunderstandings of using AI in creative work

SPIKES ASIA ACADEMY: The head of creative tech at Publicis says AI won't replace anyone in the industry anytime soon, but can be an incredible help to creatives.

10 hours ago

Asia-Pacific Power List 2022: Mits Minowa, Allbirds

The former Red Bull and Nike marketer is leading a sustainable brand out of its D2C origins and onto the global stage by launching new campaigns and entering new categories.