Words by Fiona Jenvey, CEO Mudpie.
What if brands could control consumer thinking? The science fiction film ‘Branded’ (screening from 7th September 2012) puts forward a dystopian future where corporate brands control, influence and stimulate consumption through a sophisticated means of mind control channelled through codes incorporated into everyday products.
While ‘Branded’ may be a work of science fiction, the use of neuromarketing is science fact. Moreover, the links between neuroscience and cybernetics could be a forerunner for a new high point of future brand marketing. While the benefits of this research are questionable for the consumer, the reinvention of consumer marketing heralds tremendous potential from the corporate brand point of view.
Certainly things are changing; just a decade ago business leaders employed economists to quantify and calculate consumer demand. For brands, profits lie in accurately determining the consumer’s purchasing needs and the influences behind their decision. Indeed, neuroscientists commonly estimate that 95% of decision-making is sub-conscious activity and while economics may have created the need for brands to literally ‘look inside the head’ of the consumer, it is the neuroscientist and not the economist who is working at the cutting-edge of future consumer understanding.
Neuromarketing is the nexus of science, marketing and economics, enabling scientists to evaluate neural activity as subjects view ads and interact with products via technologies such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) and Steady State Topography (SST).
While neuroscience itself is not the answer, combined with social analytics and more experiential qualitative and quantitative research, neuromarketing can enable brands to navigate the mind-set of the consumer and the continuous ‘partial attention syndrome’ that has arisen from today’s culture for hyper-connectivity.
For brands marketing to the so-called ‘Generation Z’ (born from the early to mid-1990s), this consumer group presents a particular problem. Gen Z, also known as Generation ‘I’, are the first generation of digital natives. Indeed, research shows that social media and online gaming may have contributed to changes both in brain structure and function. According to Dr. A Prandeep, author of the neuromarketing book ‘The Buying Brain’, social media feeds the consumers’ desire for recognition. Moreover, game play is proven by neuroscientists to increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine; a chemical that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. Dopamine also encourages people to take more risks and make impulse purchasing decisions.
Brands Ted Baker and Sony tap into the benefits of dopamine by getting customers involved in campaigns and tapping into their need to feel acknowledged and important. Earlier this year, Sony created a highly sensory environment to market its new Xperia Play phone which also utilised the benefits of gameplay.
Microsoft is tracking brain activity to gauge the effectiveness of its advertising campaigns on the Xbox platform. Working with Mediabrands and Emsense, the company tracked breathing rate, heart rate and body temperature in order to gain an insight into how stimulated the brain was. The results showed a significant rise in effectiveness over more traditional brand metrics and proved that the Xbox live ads delivered a 90% brand recall rate compared with 78% for the TV campaign.
Microsoft has recently patented technology that can recognize the users emotional state based on facial expressions, speech patterns and body movement using data collected over devices such as smartphones, laptops, PCs, and gaming consoles.
Nike has developed the opportunity to measure brand engagement via its FuelBand, a sleek motion-tracking wristband and iPhone app that measures everyday physical activity, allowing the brand to connect with the consumer in real-time via smartphone. Meanwhile, IBM has developed a means of acting intelligently to information collected via smart phones. In reality, marketing campaigns that react instantly and intelligently to neural activity in the real-time consumer environment is already a possibility for brands. IBM’s cognitive computer chips contain artificial neurons designed to emulate the human brain’s ability for perception by analysing complex information from multiple sensory modalities. The chips dynamically rewire themselves to interact with emotional cues and environmental factors.
As a first step towards cybernetics, technology titan Google is working on eyewear that connects the online world with the real world. The next stage is augmenting the human eye with retinal implants; such technology could offer undeniable advances in i-computing and personal communications. Cybernetics could give the human body smartphones, online gaming consoles and even camera-like capabilities via augmentation. This potential link between cybernetics and mobile communications offers an undeniable opportunity via multi-dimensional social media and e-commerce solutions.
Moving the i-computing idea on further, British scientist Kevin Warwick believes that thought communication will replace cell phones. Most recently DARPA, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, has been exploring mind-reading technology with devices that can pick up human brain signals and send them over the internet.
Significantly a version of this technology has already been developed for the consumer. The futuristic “bio sensor” company NeuroSky has developed a brainwave-scanning headset with basic mind reading capabilities. Designed for playing iOS and Android games, the headset is a precursor to a whole gamut of new possibilities for gaming, communications and future consumer marketing.
Cognitive computing and neuromarketing may be the science of the moment, however sophisticated cybernetic implants, a science fiction staple for some time now, could be the next consumer marketing frontier.
Fiona Jenvey is an expert on fashion, lifestyle, consumer and business trends and is CEO of the design and trend company Mudpie which she founded in 1992. Fiona is a much sought after analyst on fashion and lifestyle trends and has appeared in the London Evening Standard, the New York Times and advises fashion and consumer goods companies globally on product and brand position www.mpdclick.com.
Image source from top: Thinkstock, Nike, Google.