Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Beware Marketers Bearing fMRIs.

Magnetic resonance imaging scanners belong in hospitals where they can help medical pratitioners with their diagnoses. They do not belong in marketing publications where they only serve to delude gullible marketers.

If a neuroscientist is explaining what an fMRI means, then I'll listen because I know I might learn something. If a marketer has been using the machine then I'm immediately sceptical and quite often rude.

Thus it was that I got into a bit of a Twitter spat this week. The assertion at hand was that people don't want to have a relationship with brands. It's an assertion with which I completely agree. But I cannot agree with the suggestion that an academic marketer putting a bunch of people in a scanner and showing them images of people and of brands proves anything.

The fact that different parts of the brain (correction: different parts of an fMRI image) "light up" during this experiment does not prove that the brain thinks of people as people and thinks of brands as objects. It proves that different parts of the image light up and indicates increased blood-flow in those areas.

But let's be clear. No one has the slightest clue what it means for one part of a brain to light up in response to X while lighting up differently in response to Y, beyond the fact that we've found a difference maker. That's it, it's a difference maker. What that difference means, no one has any idea.

The findings can be real, as in robustly repeatable, but without having the faintest idea of how brains work, without having even a theory of how brains work, the meaning of the finding will be forever obscure.  No matter how much a neuromarketer might want you to believe otherwise.


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