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Should there be industry standards for neuromarketing?

June 12, 2013 0 Comments

brain-measureNeuromarketing is starting to do a better job developing industry standards that clients can understand and use to evaluate neuromarketing practitioners and practices. In the past, I believe this has been a big factor in the failure of neuromarketing to grow as quickly as many of us believe it should have (see my blog post “Can Neuromarketing Get It’s Groove Back, Part 1” on the GreenBook blog). Some progress worth noting includes the efforts by ARF (Advertising Research Foundation) to establish standards for neuromarketing in advertising, the NeuroStandards Project, and the proposal by the the Neuromarketing Science and Business Association (NMSBA) to establish vendor accreditation standards. We hope both these organizations will continue to push for the establishment of industry standards for neuromarketing.

There is an active “neuromarketing” group over on LinkedIn that is worth joining and following if you are interested in this field.  Ron Wright, who started the group, asked in a recent discussion whether there should be standards in the industry, in part in response to a comment I made in an earlier post.

I thought I would re-post the question and my response here, for folks who might not be on LinkedIn, because I think this is an important topic that needs more discussion from vendors, buyers, and the various research industry associations.

Ron writes:

How to establish standards for neuromarketing?

Steve Genco brought up the following question in a recent post and I thought it was best to bring it out in its own discussion topic. Please comment all.

“Of course we can’t legislate how individual vendors choose to present their offerings, but I think this field is sorely in need of some kind of independent certification or accreditation process. Perhaps this is a task that some industry association like ARF or ESOMAR or AMA could take up?

If not certification then at least develop a set of Guidelines and Principles that vendors can subscribe to. A good start has been made in an article by Murphy et. al called “Neuroethics of neuromarketing”, in Journal of Consumer Behavior, 2008.

Is this something the members of this group would like to discuss more? Are there representatives of the industry associations in the group, and if so, what do you think about how to establish standards for neuromarketing?”

My comment:

Thanks Ron for raising this issue. Apologies for not commenting sooner. Don’t know what to make of the paucity of comments, I would think this would be something everybody in the group would be interested in, especially the buyers of MR!

There have been some contacts among vendors on this issue, and some of us may begin talking about it over the next couple of weeks.

My position is pretty simple: there are certain ethical standards everybody should agree to pretty easily: non-exploitation of subjects/participants, protection of vulnerable populations (e.g., kids), use of independent review boards to approve protocols for human subjects research, full disclosure of goals, risks, and benefits, debriefing on any experimental deceptions employed, etc.

But the bigger challenge, I feel, is the fact that some early practitioners of “neuromarketing” have already dug us all into a hole with some really questionable scientific claims – bad enough that the neuroscience community has had to step forward from time to time and repudiate them.

Potential buyers, therefore, have the right and obligation to ask the tough question: “how do I know your results and recommendations are based on real science?”

This is a point where I think neuro-based research firms do need different guidelines than other MR firms. Nobody seems to doubt the scientific legitimacy of stratified sampling theory, for example, so buyers don’t need to be educated on how public opinion polling works.

But I think neuro-research firms do have an additional obligation of scientific transparency. For example, if you have a measure of emotional engagement that is based on some ratio of theta wave power to alpha wave power, you should be able to cite peer-reviewed research that has shown that metric to be a valid and reliable measure of emotion.

This doesn’t mean vendors need to give up their proprietary methods or algorithms, but I think agreeing to provide this basic level of validation would help separate the serious folks from the snake oil salesmen, and would also help our fledgling field progress from niche sideshow to mainstream MR methodology.

I don’t know if this is something that vendors should volunteer to do on their own (like a website version of a food product ingredients label) or if it should be managed by some kind of accreditation board. But I think this is currently a big obstacle to widespread adoption of neuro-based MR, and we should address it head-on.

I’m hoping we get more discussion on this topic among all the players affected – the vendors, the buyers, and the industry associations.
Murphy, E., Illes, J., & Reiner, P. (2008). Neuroethics of neuromarketing Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 7 (4-5), 293-302 DOI: 10.1002/cb.252

This is a re-post of an article first posted in an earlier blog of mine on August 2, 2009.

Image from Roger Dooley’s Neuromarketing blog, here.

Filed in: Practices • Tags: , ,

About the Author:

Steve is a writer, speaker, researcher, and marketing consultant. He is author of Intuitive Marketing (2019), a study of persuasion and influence in marketing theory and practice, and co-author of Neuromarketing for Dummies (2013), a comprehensive overview of neuromarketing science, applications, methodologies, and ethics. He is Managing Partner at Intuitive Consumer Insights, where he focuses on marketing education and consulting.

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