Putting the Neuron to Work: 3 of 4

Two Questions Concerning Legitimate Practices and Subjectivation in Neuropersuasion.

3 of 4

Legitimate Practices.

These are indeed two questions hanging over my take on the Tardean trajectory into neuron science. I would like to briefly address them here as a precursor to a perhaps more detailed study to come.

Regarding the legitimacy of this business/science incursion into the neuron I want to respond to an article published in the New York Times a few years back. Like many journalistic efforts on the subject of neuromarketing “Is the Ad a Success? The Brain Waves Tell All” is in absolute awe of the claims of neuroscience to be able to measure what a consumer unconsciously responds to. It’s a wonderful example for my purposes, looking at, amongst other ads, the Apple versus PC campaign. The piece ends with this thought…

“Some consumer advocates [is that what they call us?] question the role of biometrics in ad research. They worry that blending “Weird Science” with “Mad Men” will give marketers an unfair advantage over consumers.”

But apparently this is not what they intend to do. “The role of neuromarketing is to understand how people feel and react,” claims the chief analytics officer at EmSense neuromarketing. “It in no way sets out to meddle with normal, natural response mechanisms.” EmSense’s opinion, the article continues, is “echoed by Robert E. Knight, the director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, who is also the chief science adviser at NeuroFocus.“ We’re not trying to predict an individual’s thoughts and actions and we’re not trying to input messages,” he says.

On the contrary, marketing is, arguably, all about cutting out uncertainties by making consumer behavior evermore predictable. This is what crowd sourcing and co-creation also do. They parasite the consumer experience and pull it into the production line. Neuromarketing though works on a deeper level of persuasion.

Watch another NeuroFocus video.

This one claims that neuromarketing predicts the marketplace performance of ads derived from the three metrics of persuasion, novelty, and awareness. One way in which to do this is to prime the experience of consumption by intervening directly at the level of perception and absorption. This involves the seeking out of, at the analysis and conceptual design stage, what subconsciously attracts and draws the attention. The affective priming of experience can, it is claimed, guide attention and potentially steer intent.

So, there are no “Weird Science” probes in the sense that people are having sensors fed directly into the brain or indeed being directly rigged up to MRI or EEG devices while consuming (that’s all done at the testing stage), but there is an indirect tapping into perception and absorption at the subliminal level of consumer experience. The “Mad Men” are inside your head (was that a Pink Floyd lyric?)

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About Virality

Tony D. Sampson is Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at the University of East London. A former musician, he studied computer technology and cultural theory before receiving a PhD in sociology from the University of Essex. His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016) and Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, due 2018). He is organizer and host of the Affect and Social Media conferences in the UK, a co-founder of Club Critical Theory and Director of the EmotionUX Lab at UEL. He occasionally blogs at: https://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/ Full academic profile: https://www.uel.ac.uk/Staff/s/tony-sampson
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