Unsure on how to make your Brand Research more effective again? Stick people into MRIs.

December 9, 2007 at 8:00 pm Leave a comment

I recently read an article in Adage, written by Moshe Bar, Director at the NeuroCognition Lab at Harvard Medical school. As more and more people say that asking consumers to critique ads is, like, so yesterday (which I mostly agree with), Moshe comes out and puts his Ph.D. and scientific research to use for the Advertising folks. In fact, the last paragraph of said article ends:

[…] advertisers could go even further by better understanding the basic science of the human mind. Don’t you want to know how to better generate positive associations that will stick in memory? Or how context and attentions filter the perception of reality? Or the way that mood affects people’s desires? My guess is you do.

Ok. Duh. Yeah, who wouldn’t like to know? Especially when there are so many pseudo-scientific research methodologies that all promise the same. Looks like Mr. Bar isn’t just offering a new look at things to Brand Researchers, he is also pushing the right buttons for us a target audience (i.e. real science giving answers to difficult marketing questions).

So is this type of research really any different in terms of effectiveness to create compelling ads, or did Harvard’s research grant fund run dry as to have to go in cahoots with the lowly spheres of the communications industry? Is it that instead of a nice subjective and ineffective chat with your consumers around a table, you actually stick them into an MRI? That certainly is upping the ante (those things are huge and expensive after all), and I do believe it gives you answers to which emotions might be triggered. I am not a scientist, but when Mr. Bar says “If we scientists have behavioral methods that we believe could modify the associations elicited in post-traumatic stress, changing associations in a retailer’s reputations should be a walk in the park in comparison, using the exactly the same principles,” I kind of go “Mreep?”. I am not sure why, because I don’t have an MRI in our research lab, but let me try to guess.

First of all, likening post-traumatic stress to a emotional reactions to an ad seem kind of, well, like making a mousetrap the size of a house. It’s friggin ads, not memories of your tank Humvee being blown up in Iraq. While I do believe the article that, scientifically, the same principles apply in terms of being able to measure emotional triggers, even in ads, I wonder if the level of the response in those cases when you measure ads is equally as relevant as when deal with real issues like PTS. What I mean is, if you find out (as described in the article) that an ad containing sharp objects makes people nervous, and you use this insight as part of a creative brief, may we not, at some point be overdoing it? Does an ad message have to be as complicated as including deeply rooted human psychological and even phylogenetic insights? Maybe it can and maybe it is not as complicated. I just feel that continuing research on PTS is more important and different league than that of making ads. Currently brand research suffers from too many methodologies, not to little. Apart from that, there may be a bit of a problem with applicability and feasibility with this scientific approach for the purposes of brand research at this point. I am all for trying out research methodology as described in the arcticle is a good idea to gain more understanding in how we, as humans, work, and I do believe it will even have effects on how we think about communications. But for now, I know there are a number of really good and inexpensive tools (some even scientific) that allow us to observe human behavior instead of simply ineffectively asking people’s opinions. Those seem like a good way forward for now, and the kind of stuff done by researchers like Moshe Bar, as mind-bogglingly amazing it really is, operates at a more fundamental level: the kind of level that is established when scientist try to find out how we all function.


Entry filed under: Brand, Consumer, effectiveness, Insight, research, theory.

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