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Caution needed on neuroscience

News, 05 August 2016

NEW YORK: Marketers need to be cautious about moving onto the brightest and shiniest neuroscientific tools in supporting their research efforts, according to Rachel Kennedy and Haydn Northover of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

In How to Use Neuromeasures To Make Better Advertising Decisions – Questions Practitioners Should Ask Vendors and Research Priorities for Scholars – appearing in the latest edition of the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) – Kennedy and Northover advise marketers to be wary of the early over-promise of neuroscience.

Traditional measures of effectiveness, they assert, are often insufficient as a means to "fully understand response to advertising". Neuroscience offers new possibilities in this area, but is not an infallible guide.

"Neuro approaches are promising, but not yet perfect: The data needs to be manipulated to 'see' the patterns; the outputs require interpretation; and different software can give different answers," Kennedy and Northover write.

Advancing theory, they continue, "faces challenges until neuroskills are developed more widely among more advertisers and more broadly across the different advertising conditions.

"In addition, there also must be more consistency and transparency across providers, including conceptualizing clear operational definitions, such as a message's emotional tone versus the audience's emotional response."

The authors further note that understanding about how the brain "builds and stores memories" has advanced significantly in recent years, with important learnings for brands.

"Because most advertising needs to work through buyers' memories, this knowledge has major implications for advertising development and measurement," they suggest.

"Emotion is central to human thinking and decision making. Emotions impact what people pay attention to, hence which advertising has any chance of influencing behavior.

"If advertisers focus only on rational responses, they potentially miss knowledge of how to make great advertising.

"Improved understanding of how peoples' brains and bodies respond to advertising – emotionally, rationally, unconsciously, and consciously – across varied conditions is needed for improved theories of advertising, to guide more effective decision making and to refine the tools for measuring success."

Kennedy and Northover also identify issues with implementing such measures; provide questions for buyers of neuroscientific research to ask vendors; and encourage vendors to develop "robust answers underpinned by empirical validations." Those validations, the authors predict, "will advance advertising understanding and practice."

"How to Use Neuromeasures to Make Better Advertising Decisions" is part of a special "How Neurological Measures Work in Advertising" section in the latest issue of JAR.

Data sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by Warc staff