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Jennifer Wells’ article in The Globe & Mail’s Report on Business section (“Advertising’s Holy Grail,” Saturday March 15) illustrates how truly little of a shit some marketers and advertisers give about consumers as human beings – especially those companies who think they’ve taken a major leap into new strategic space by replacing focus groups for neuromarketing. As Wells points out, measuring brain waves or blood flows to determine responses to an ad’s music, imagery, brand messaging etc. isn’t exactly a spring chicken methodology. But, as the thrust of her article, the announcement 4 weeks ago that Nielsen Co. “had made what it called a ‘strategic investment’ in a theretofore unheard of California company called NeuroFocus’,” it looks like the chicken’s got new gravy.

Other firms are similarly working this new gravy, er, methodology. Along with Neilsen, Wells points out that ESPN, Virgin Mobile USA and Starcom MediaVest (and there’s far more to boot) have all recently cut cheques to them to mine the deepest recesses of the consumer mind. But are they? Really?

Positioning your services as an alternative to focus groups? Isn’t that like cancer calling the plague black? I’m all for kids getting $20 to taste a chocolate bar or two and tell Cadbury’s it’s shit, but focus groups haven’t been a ‘best practice’ for any firm with a brain worth scanning since Puma-wearing 20-somethings early-adopted that phrase, like, whenever. Tsk tsk to Jennifer Wells (if she did) or NeuroFocus (if they did) for setting the best practice bar so low at focus groups. Like, who can’t jump that high?

This approach to probing the ‘consumer mind’ (literally) for deep insights will fly, for a time, because most of the 1.0 marketing and advertising crowd are quantitative junkies so unsure of their product and promotion (and, I guess, their people) that they’ll only place their bets once the Vegas odds are sold to them in their favour. They’ll pay for the service because the companies that offer it boast a more accurate or detailed or nuanced read with – get this – fewer test subjects. Yes, it saves money and it’s quicker than focus groups! But it still seems focus groupy, just with a big discount coupon, wires on heads and cool EEG readouts to throw into a Power Point deck.

Remember brain wavers that claimed they could crack the emotion & meaning of music or peer into the predator’s mind as he watched porno in jail?

How many times a man farts after eating chicken tikka doesn’t tell you anything about how much or where, why, when and with whom – never mind the stories he might regale you with from his restaurant experiences or childhood memories of the family tandoor as young boy in the Punjab – he is socially, culturally, personally, emotionally or gastronomically engaged with and by chicken tikka.

I guess what really irks me is that some companies or brands and their research lackies would even think of hooking lab consumers up to wires. What’s next? Rubbing shampoo into kids’ eyes to see how much they cry?

Or maybe it’s the title of Wells’ article. I guess she’s a fan of the Dan Brown/Tom Hanks version. Sorry, though, I’m still not convinced the secrets can be read through wires. You won’t find them in the blood or, for that matter, the brain as mechanism. And even if you could, one brain does not make a market, a community or a culture.

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