The Journal of
|This article is from Vol. 1,
Issue No. 3 pages 69-71 (Fall 2000)
© 2000 CENTER
FOR COGNITIVE LIBERTY AND ETHICS
All rights reserved worldwide. ISSN: 1527-3946
This Is Your
Brain on Ads:
The Future of Advertising Starts Here
From NASA to the
Teletubby generation: thats the abbreviated history of the electroencephalogram. The
EEG began as a brainwave-reading machine that told scientists which astronauts could
remain the most focused and alert. Today, the headset technology is licensed to a
Pennsylvania company that tests whether or not ads get a fix on your brain.
we are turning the respondents headset into a camcorder into their mind, says
David Hunter, president and CEO of Capita Research Group.
Investment in the
advertising research industry doubled in the 1990s, yet the core testing method remained
the same: pay up to 400 people to watch ads and fill in a questionnaire. To many
advertisers, the Engagement Testing System offered by Capita Research represents the holy
grail of objective market research. People cant fudge their brainwave activity.
Pratkanis, a University of California social psychologist and author of Age of Propaganda,
says measures like EEGs are notoriously unreliable, but warns that any
high-tech advance in the advertisers arsenal is a blow to the consumer.
professional persuaders with massive war chests, he says. We dont have a
lot of resources to defend ourselves. Its not a fair match.
A glance into the
future is even more worrisome, adds Dr. Alien Kanner, a professor at the Wright Institute,
a graduate school of psychology in Berkeley, California. Tapping into our core emotions,
advertisers could put consumers into a dreamlike alpha state. Its
close to hypnosis, says Kanner. Marketing research could eventually pinpoint images
and sounds that activate deep human impulses such as anxiety, anger, or sexual excitement.
Over time, says Kanner, advertisers will have to combat human adaptability.
Theyll have to go to further and further lengths to shock you.
advertising executives are leery of this potential mental trespass. A spokesperson for
MTV, quoted in American Demographics magazine, winced at the likely public reaction if EEG
ad-testing was used on children and youth. It would be a PR nightmare, he
said. Its too Big Brother.
his critics, noting that Capita can only test those who are willing to participate.
Its just another market research technique, he says. Whats
more invasive: asking you how much money you make and how you spend it, or my putting a
headset on you and seeing when youre paying the most attention? Its how you
look at life.
provided services to some big hitters, including ten of the 100 largest companies on the
Fortune 300 list and five of the worlds largest drug manufacturers. Already,
engagement testing is poised to influence much more than ad design. In a study
commissioned by STARCOM, the largest TV ad-time buyer in the US, Capita discovered that
some shows with high Nielsen ratings werent exactly riveting viewers to the
setor to the programs commercial breaks. Based on engagement testing, TV
producers could launch a renewed race to snag viewer attention and make ads an
increasingly unavoidable compulsion.
More gripping plot
lines on Friends? It doesnt stop there. Of course were not allowed to
say who, says Hunter, but weve had a couple of federal politicians as
about subscribing to the print version
Reprinted with permission from Adbusters, No. 31
(August/September 2000). For more information about Adbusters, visit www.adbusters.org.