Jonah Lehrer reviews new popular neuromarketing book Buy-ology in the Washington Post and notes that the book itself is a shining example of marketing but without a good grasp of what the neuroscience studies actually show.
If one of the greatest ironies of public relations is that it has an image problem, one of the greatest achievements of neuromarketing has been the self-promotion without having demonstrating any material benefit to the approach.
That’s not to say there’s some respectable science being undertaken to understand the neural basis of commercial reasoning and buyer decision-making, but so far, no-one has demonstrated that any of these approaches actually provide a more effective way of marketing.
In other words, we’re still waiting for a single study that shows that any measure of neural activity predicts actual purchases or sales better than existing methods.
It’s quite amazing to think that there are now numerous multi-million dollar ‘neuromarketing’ companies that are providing services without having any evidence for their effectiveness.
Their success is likely because, as we know from recent studies, attaching bogus references to the brain or irrelevant images of brain scans, make explanation of behaviour seem more credible to non-neuroscientists.
One irony is that commercial neuromarketing has been a marketing success story, but not on the basis of the neuroscience which is largely just used as another form of traditional branding.
In fact, it’s just a form of marketing first developed by Edward Bernays, the nephew of Freud, back in the 1920s. The secret, Bernays said, was not to appeal to what people need, but to what they desire – in this case, to seem cutting edge.
UPDATE: I really recommend reading the two comments below in full, but this snippet from Neuroskeptic is a particular gem:
“One irony is that commercial neuromarketing has been a marketing success story, but not on the basis of the neuroscience which is largely just used as another form of traditional branding.”
It’s not just ironic, it’s fascinating. It shows that marketing people – who you might expect to be “immune to their poison” – are vulnerable to marketing gimmicks too.
Link to WashPost review of ‘Buy-ology’.