I don’t listen to morning radio very often, but Tuesday (July 22) I was out early and happened to tune in to NPR’s “Morning Edition.” I came in on the middle of an interview about something called “neurofocus” and thought it was related to a new medical finding. As I listened further, however, I realized that it had nothing to do with medicine.
The segment was actually about a company named NeuroFocus, Inc. (“Brainwave Analysis for Audience Engagement”) which is gathering data about how people respond to messaging in a new way which is problematical downright SCARY.
According to the company’s website:
NeuroFocus, Inc. is an innovative company applying the latest advances in neuroscience to the world of advertising and messaging. Leveraging a rapidly growing body of research and insights into how the human brain processes stimuli like ads, messages, and products, we are able to track millisecond-by-millisecond brain responses to messaging.
Our breakthrough techniques utilize advances in measuring attention challenges, emotional engagement, and memory/retention to measure the effectiveness of advertising. Our measurements are precise, unambiguous, and repeatable. The measurement method is established EEG technology, which is simple, non-invasive, non-influential, and comfortable for and familiar to consumers.
Their “Neuroinformatics Database” is a much different animal that the “Gallup Brain” project which I discussed briefly in a recent post, “Musings on Pollsters: Confessions of a Former Gallup Study Director…(Updated 1X).” Gallup’s project merely involves a set-up that involves using millions of records from six decades of surveys.
No, what NeuroFocus is doing is entirely different.
A better picture of where their work is going is shown in this February 2008 press release Nielsen Makes Strategic Investment in NeuroFocus, an Innovative Leader in Neuromarketing Research :
The Nielsen Company today announced that it has made a strategic investment in NeuroFocus, an innovative firm that specializes in applying brainwave research to advertising, programming and messaging. The two companies will work together in an alliance to develop new forms of measurement and metrics based on the latest advances in neuroscience. Details regarding the investment were not disclosed.
The Nielsen Company and NeuroFocus are joining forces to initially bring an array of new science-based products, services and metrics to clients in consumer packaged goods, television, film and emerging media. At the same time, Nielsen will integrate NeuroFocus’ techniques into existing services to better understand the elements of successful consumer
engagement. For example, NeuroFocus’ techniques will become a permanent feature in Nielsen’s Digital Labs research centers at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and at CityWalk in Los Angeles.
Because Nielsen is focused on bringing innovative products and services to clients, this alliance is an extraordinary opportunity to incorporate ground-breaking science into our product offerings,” said Nielsen Executive Vice President Susan Whiting. “This alliance will enable
us to gather truly unique insights about consumers’ attitudes and behavior about which they themselves may not even be fully aware and will complement our other measures of consumer behavior.”
NeuroFocus uses established electroencephalography (EEG) technology to directly measure the brain’s reaction to a variety of stimuli. Consumers wear a specially designed baseball cap embedded with sensors that passively track brain responses about 2000 times a second as they interact with advertising or marketing materials. NeuroFocus can precisely and instantaneously determine what parts of the messages they pay attention to; how they emotionally engage with them; and what is actually moved to memory. In addition, NeuroFocus blends eye tracking, galvanic skin response and other physiological parameters to provide a comprehensive solution that augments the brain wave analysis.
Get that? NeuroFocus is hooking people up to electrodes to track their responses to advertising and telelvision programs. The technology is already being used by CBS to “tweak” advertising for their programs so that viewers are less likely to miss “critical information.”
Dr. A.K. Pradeep, the company’s founder, summarizes the whole process using these words:
The brainwave signals are “taken, analyzed, cleaned-up, processed” and the metrics are “extracted” from the brainwaves.
WHOA! Doesn’t that conjure up an image of a big hand coming in and scooping out the contents of your brain?
I urge everyone to listen to this six-minute interview here at NPR.
Robert Knight, a NeuroFocus consultant who was interviewed during the segment, was quick to declare that the whole process is not “mind control” which, as he defines it, involves “making you pick something you don’t want for a reason you don’t understand.” He claims he would “NEVER want to go there.” Besides, he said, the technology isn’t able to do this sort of thing…yet. But there are competitors, and I will bet that the scramble is on to advance the technology so that it will be possible to insert messages DIRECTLY into people’s minds, rather than subliminially, as they watch all types of messaging.
One of the other limitations of the technology is that it can’t measure how people really feel about what they are seeing. But, to find out how much people love or hate something, traditional focus groups must still be used. I can attest to this use of focus groups, because I helped conduct them when I worked in market research. Remember when PET bottles first appeared in the early 80’s? The company I worked for ran focus groups in Hoboken, NJ and participants were able to handle the first PET bottles full of product, which came from a national soda company, and compare them to glass. Well, the participants all loved the PET bottles and now half the Pacific Ocean is full of the things. (To this day, I feel guilty about my role in this project…and, by the way, this was my LAST job in marketing research…)
Now let’s jump from PET bottles to political campaigns. Can you imagine if a “perfected” version of this technology is adapted to political surveys or if it is eventually used by a political candidate like Obama, who already is being helped by an enabling media and large numbers of uniformed, fanatic supporters? Can you imagine “correct” responses being inserted into the brains of survey participants?
Horrible thought, isn’t it? As bad as things are with polling and manipulation, things could be getting a whole lot worse…
Filed under: Current Politics | Tagged: Barack Obama, CBS, Dr. A. K. Pradeep, Gallup, Gallup Brain, market research, NeuroFocus Inc., neuromarketing research, NPR Morning Edition, The Nielsen Company |