Media buyers have always wanted to get inside consumers minds.

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It’s the media buyers Holy Grail: being able to read your target customers minds. Although that exact ability may yet elude our grasp, current research is bringing us remarkably close to that precognitive reality.
“In the past, we’ve used things like focus groups,” says Akshay Rao, General Mills professor of marketing at Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “Now, I can actually look inside your brain as you look at an advertising piece that has yellow, green, and blue versus a black and white piece, and tell whether the yellow, green and blue piece is generating more neural activity.”
To accomplish this, Rao uses a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanner to peer into consumers brains. Basically a giant doughnut-shaped magnet, an fMRI scanner enables researchers to see how much oxygen different parts of the brain are using while the test subject lies on a narrow table with his or her head in the “hole” of the donut. The most active areas display the most oxygen flow and “light up” on the scanner.
Advocates of neuromarketing research say that its results are more objective and accurate than results gained using customary research methods such as surveys and focus groups. “With traditional marketing research techniques, people do not always express their true feelings, so information is often not reflective of what the consumer is actually thinking,” says Peter Koeppel, president of Koeppel Direct, a firm that provides multi-channel direct-response services.
“Neuromarketing allows media buying experts to understand the impact of their ad on the consumer’s brain,” he says. “By reviewing and analyzing this information, the marketer can change the marketing campaign to improve consumer response, which translates into a better return on investment.”
That improved understanding of how campaigns affect consumers is the first step toward creating more intimate relationships, says Rao, who is also the director of the Carlson School’s Institute for Research in Marketing. “When I do consulting work for companies, I tell them to develop consumer intimacy,” he says. “With neuromarketing, we have a physiological means of assessing whether those intimate relationships have been established.”

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