As a Consumer Thinketh...

Coming soon to a billboard or TV commercial - advertising that has relied on the brain scans of typical consumers to figure out their "buy buttons."

Simply using focus groups, surveys, or common sense just isn't good enough anymore for the marketing industry. Now it is eyeing a medical technology known as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to see how people's brains react to certain products.

The BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences, among others, is a leader in this "neuromarketing research." Located in the neuroscience wing of Emory University Hospital, the institute has its own Fortune 500 client and is part of BrightHouse, an advertising agency whose clients have included Coca-Cola and Home Depot.

Adam Koval, a BrightHouse executive, told the Canadian Broadcasting Company last year that neuromarketing "...will actually result in higher product sales or in brand preference or in getting customers to behave in the way they want them to behave."

BrightHouse says the goal of these MRI scans is to help "identify patterns of brain activity that reveal how a consumer is actually evaluating a product or advertisement."

How Orwellian. Or, as Gary Ruskin of the nonprofit Commercial Alert, notes: "The whole point of neuromarketing is to subvert thought, not encourage it." He says medical experiments currently under way at Emory may have violated federal guidelines for research on humans, and is calling on the government to stop them.

One has only to think of how the tobacco, alcohol, and gambling industries might exploit such research to further addict customers. Even politicians might use neuromarketing to try to manipulate voters.

This biology-based marketing tool needs broad public debate before it moves forward - with limits, if not an outright ban, to be considered.

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