The Problem with Neuromarketing….

There are several problems really. The first is the name. It should really be called applied cognitive neuroscience (ACN), because that is what it is. Hopefully this would counter all the specious arguments about it being scientific. The New Scientist (http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/neurofocus-and-new-scientist-magazine-apply-neuromarketing-to-select-cover-design-100053049.html) test raised some comments about the science of ACN. I have to disclose in what seems like a previous life I studied cognitive neuroscience (we called it neuropsychology back then). Trust me, it is a science, it has been around a *long time*, many decades, and it also uses statistics correctly. This latter fact is a novelty for a lot of MR, I know. At least ACN tries.

There is also the privacy “discussion”. ACN is about as invasive as looking at someone who is blushing and deducing they may be embarrassed. ACN measures physiological correlates of mental states or processes. It happens to do them via electrical signals measures from the brain. We do this all the while with body language, speech tones and so on. Just because there is a lot of equipment in ACN and latin words doesn’t make it any different.

The biggest problem ACN has is sample size. N = 19, as in the New Scientist test, isn’t much. It is barely enough for a single quota cell. Making big decisions based on tiny samples mostly ends in tears. The sample size issue relates to the technology of ACN. The electrodes on the scalp can take time to set up and this limits sample sizes. However several companies have ways round this with either limited electrode placement (not so good – one electrode gets you nothing except muscle noise) and less “invasive” caps that hold the electrodes on the scalp without glue. The latter holds the most promise so far as I can see. Sample size is a solvable problem, scalability may take time, but compared to the rest of the technology used in ACN it is not the most complex problem. Several companies are building normative databases which will be hugely useful.

The problems with ACN are solvable, the potential is huge…

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About Andrew Jeavons

With over 25 years in the market research industry, Andrew is a frequent writer and speaker for various publications and events around the world. He has a background in psychology, statistics and software development. Andrew is President of Survey Analytics.