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Is neuromarketing a myth?

Authors of opinion blogs that are really concealed promotion for their own products hope that their audience will actively discuss what has been written on their blog. Whether the commenters are supporters or opponents of the opinions expressed on the blog is irrelevant; there is no such thing as bad PR. Therefore, the author of the article about neuromarketing on the Dutch platform Marketingfacts must have rejoiced over the sometimes neurotic reactions to his contribution, which even led to additional attention in the form of an editorial by the editor in chief.

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So, what was the main issue in this blog entry? In the article, a consultant from a neuromarketing agency argued that the Sarah Jessica Parker ad run by Dutch retail chain Blokker was doomed to fail, that the ad had directly resulted in customers running away and that this could have been prevented with neuromarketing. After all, neuromarketing research had exposed test subjects to the ad on beforehand and had measured that they perceived the commercial as extremely poor. However, the article was problematic in a number of ways: while it stated that they had measured the effects of the ad in the brain, there was no mention of any target group or framework; certain effects were measured, but these effects were not clearly described, nor did the article state how they had been identified; and, finally, the conclusion that neuromarketing could have prevented all this misery and can directly measure how advertisements influence the psyche was quite short-sighted.

Of course, the article came under attack from critical creatives in the field, who questioned several points made in the article, as can be read in the editorial. It is a pity, however, that, in the process, neuromarketing was written off altogether as quackery, based on the argument that neuromarketing cannot produce a straightforward measurement of the influence of advertising as anything could still happen between watching an advertisement and buying the relevant product. While this is of course true, doesn’t this go for all forms of marketing?

Frankly, I can easily imagine neuromarketing being complementary to other forms of marketing. It will prove practically impossible to measure whether a good neuromarketing campaign directly leads to more sales, but that does not mean that it cannot contribute to other aspects of marketing. Take, for example, experiments with positive brand associations. Does the intended advertisement arouse the intended emotion? Does the hiring of a celebrity create the right association or does it have a different effect? Asking and answering these questions might just lead to a better message in terms of substance. While neuromarketing will not have customers run to the store immediately after watching an ad, it could help to give brands positive substance.

In order to determine the effects of neuromarketing in all its facets, it must be properly studied. This takes more than just claiming, at the top of your lungs, that you have studied this strand of marketing. Rather, it requires conducting proper research, revealing the population, method, framework, hypotheses, etc. used. And more than once.

In all, it is very unfortunate that the Blokker advertisement was chosen for the article. After all, another one of our brain functions should have set off all the alarm bells in our heads right away when confronted with an advertisement featuring an expensive celeb, who would never in her life visit a store like that. A dying store, moreover, that was mass firing its staff at the time. That brain function is called common sense.