Science and marketing have always made good partners. Today, as technology etches itself ever deeper into our lives, this union is at a watershed. Neuromarketing has brought us to the point where science and marketing are virtually indistinguishable.
In the 1990s, two revolutionary technological breakthroughs allowed scientist to study brain activity in real time. The first was functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a noninvasive technology that maps brain activity. The other, electroencephalography (EEG), measures brain waves.
By using these two technologies, scientists are able to evaluate the brain as it is subjected to stimuli. The effects of individual factors on conscious and subconscious responses is catalogued. The totality of the data reveals the inner workings of human thought unlike anything we could have imagined.
Aside from determining how you will react, neuromarketing also encompasses targeted advertising. Based on someone's response history, technology can be used to predict not just how to advertise to them but what to advertise in the first place.
The advantage for marketers is efficiency. They can create personalized ads that are sent only to the individuals most likely to respond. It is more economical for the marketer and less invasive (and irritating) for the target audience.
However, neuromarketing is not a given. No two brains are exactly alike; in fact, the very same person might react differently in varying circumstances to the same stimulus. In that sense, neuromarketing is a probability predictor. It narrows the threshold required to make a sale but cannot guarantee it.
As artificial intelligence and machine learning help scientists develop an ever-better idea of how the brain really works, we are inching into ambiguous territory. One of the biggest questions around neuromarketing is whether it is ethical. If marketers can pinpoint the time, place, color, music, and images to virtually force you to hit "buy now," one question still remains. Should they?
A somewhat analogous marketing tactic, subliminal advertising, has been used for decades. However, it is illegal in Australia and the U.K. today. Subliminal advertising involves the use of brief, consciously-imperceptible messages in video. The rationale behind the ban is that these messages can compel someone to act by surpassing the conscious and appealing directly to the subconscious.
In today's always-online culture, we give up our personal information without a thought. Virtually no one looks at app permissions or reads a single line of the terms and conditions. Meanwhile, every screen tap, every "like," every swipe, and every page view is silently logged in massive servers somewhere. Neuromarketers today seem to have it a lot easier than the behavioral scientists of yesteryear.
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