Re: news of the day: t-shirts...and ads
Thanks, Marge. A 2% return is not very much when you think about it. I
wondered what the cut off point would be and have noticed that the smaller
companies often charge for their catalogues and/or cut you off if you don't
purchase in a set period of time. Some catalogues I like only for their
ideas...some gift catalogues have interesting ideas for decorating, floral
arrangements, etc. Noticed an interesting article on the brain and
advertising recently...thought I would share and see what you think....so
now you know why people prefer Coke and are attracted to Porsches.
October 26, 2003
There's a Sucker Born in Every Medial Prefrontal Cortex
By CLIVE THOMPSON
When he isn't pondering the inner workings of the mind, Read Montague, a
43-year-old neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, has been known to
contemplate the other mysteries of life: for instance, the Pepsi Challenge.
In the series of TV commercials from the 70's and 80's that pitted Coke
against Pepsi in a blind taste test, Pepsi was usually the winner. So why,
Montague asked himself not long ago, did Coke appeal so strongly to so many
people if it didn't taste any better?
Over several months this past summer, Montague set to work looking for a
scientifically convincing answer. He assembled a group of test subjects
and, while monitoring their brain activity with an M.R.I. machine,
recreated the Pepsi Challenge. His results confirmed those of the TV
campaign: Pepsi tended to produce a stronger response than Coke in the
brain's ventral putamen, a region thought to process feelings of reward.
(Monkeys, for instance, exhibit activity in the ventral putamen when they
receive food for completing a task.) Indeed, in people who preferred Pepsi,
the ventral putamen was five times as active when drinking Pepsi than that
of Coke fans when drinking Coke.
In the real world, of course, taste is not everything. So Montague tried to
gauge the appeal of Coke's image, its ''brand influence,'' by repeating the
experiment with a small variation: this time, he announced which of the
sample tastes were Coke. The outcome was remarkable: almost all the
subjects said they preferred Coke. What's more, the brain activity of the
subjects was now different. There was also activity in the medial
prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that scientists say governs
high-level cognitive powers. Apparently, the subjects were meditating in a
more sophisticated way on the taste of Coke, allowing memories and other
impressions of the drink -- in a word, its brand -- to shape their
Pepsi, crucially, couldn't achieve the same effect. When Montague reversed
the situation, announcing which tastes were of Pepsi, far fewer of the
subjects said they preferred Pepsi. Montague was impressed: he had
demonstrated, with a fair degree of neuroscientific precision, the special
power of Coke's brand to override our taste buds.
Measuring brand influence might seem like an unusual activity for a
neuroscientist, but Montague is just one of a growing breed of researchers
who are applying the methods of the neurology lab to the questions of the
advertising world. Some of these researchers, like Montague, are purely
academic in focus, studying the consumer mind out of intellectual
curiosity, with no corporate support. Increasingly, though, there are
others -- like several of the researchers at the Mind of the Market
Laboratory at Harvard Business School -- who work as full-fledged
''neuromarketers,'' conducting brain research with the help of corporate
financing and sharing their results with their sponsors. This summer, when
it opened its doors for business, the BrightHouse Institute for Thought
Sciences in Atlanta became the first neuromarketing firm to boast a Fortune
500 consumer-products company as a client. (The client's identity is
currently a secret.) The institute will scan the brains of a representative
sample of its client's prospective customers, assess their reactions to the
company's products and advertising and tweak the corporate image
Not long ago, M.R.I. machines were used solely for medical purposes, like
diagnosing strokes or discovering tumors. But neuroscience has reached a
sort of cocky adolescence; it has become routine to read about researchers
tackling every subject under the sun, placing test subjects in M.R.I.
machines and analyzing their brain activity as they do everything from
making moral choices to praying to appreciating beauty. Paul C. Lauterbur,
a chemist who shared this year's Nobel Prize in medicine for his
contribution in the early 70's to the invention of the M.R.I. machine,
notes how novel the uses of his invention have become. ''Things are getting
a lot more subtle than we'd ever thought,'' he says. It seems only natural
that the commercial world has finally caught on. ''You don't have to be a
genius to say, 'My God, if you combine making the can red with making it
less sweet, you can measure this in a scanner and see the result,'''
Montague says. ''If I were Pepsi, I'd go in there and I'd start scanning
The neuroscience wing at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta is the
epicenter of the neuromarketing world. Like most medical wards, it is
filled with an air of quiet, antiseptic tension. On a recent visit, in the
hallway outside an M.R.I. room, a patient milled around in a light blue
paper gown. A doctor on a bench flipped through a clipboard and talked in
soothing tones to a man in glasses, a young woman anxiously clutching his
It was not a place where you would expect to encounter slick marketing
research. And when Justine Meaux, a research scientist for the BrightHouse
Institute, came out to greet me, she did seem strangely out of place.
Clicking along in strappy sandals, with a tight sleeveless top and purple
toenail polish, she looked more like a chic TV producer than a
neuroscientist, which she is. Her specialty, as she explained, is ''the
neural dynamics of the perception and production of rhythmic sensorimotor
patterns'' -- though these days she spends her professional life thinking
about shopping. ''I'm really getting into reading all this business stuff
now, learning about campaigns, branding,'' she said, leading me down the
hallway to the M.R.I. chamber that the Institute uses. Three years ago,
after earning her Ph.D., she decided she wanted to apply brain scanning to
everyday problems and was intrigued by marketing as a ''practical
application of psychology,'' as she put it. She told me that she admired
the ''Intel Inside'' advertising campaign, with its TV spots showing
dancing men in body suits. ''Intel actually branded the inside of a
computer,'' she marveled. ''They took the most abstract thing you can
imagine and figured out a way to make people identify with it.''
When we reached the M.R.I. control room, Clint Kilts, the scientific
director of the BrightHouse Institute, was fiddling away at a computer
keyboard. A professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral
sciences at Emory, Kilts began working with Meaux in 2001. Meaux had
learned that Kilts and a group of marketers were founding the BrightHouse
Institute, and she joined their team, becoming perhaps the world's first
full-time neuromarketer. Kilts is confident that there will soon be room
for other full-time careers in neuromarketing. ''You will actually see this
being part of the decision-making process, up and down the company,'' he
predicted. ''You are going to see more large companies that will have
The BrightHouse Institute's techniques are based, in part, on an experiment
that Kilts conducted earlier this year. He gathered a group of test
subjects and asked them to look at a series of commercial products, rating
how strongly they liked or disliked them. Then, while scanning their brains
in an M.R.I. machine, he showed them pictures of the products again. When
Kilts looked at the images of their brains, he was struck by one particular
result: whenever a subject saw a product he had identified as one he truly
loved -- something that might prompt him to say, ''That's just so me!'' --
his brain would show increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex.
Kilts was excited, for he knew that this region of the brain is commonly
associated with our sense of self. Patients with damage in this area of the
brain, for instance, often undergo drastic changes in personality; in one
famous case, a mild-mannered 19th-century railworker named Phineas Gage
abruptly became belligerent after an accident that destroyed his medial
prefrontal cortex. More recently, M.R.I. studies have found increased
activity in this region when people are asked if adjectives like
''trustworthy'' or ''courageous'' apply to them. When the medial prefrontal
cortex fires, your brain seems to be engaging, in some manner, with what
sort of person you are. If it fires when you see a particular product,
Kilts argues, it's most likely to be because the product clicks with your
This result provided the BrightHouse Institute with an elegant tool for
testing marketing campaigns and brands. An immediate, intuitive bond
between consumer and product is one that every company dreams of making.
''If you like Chevy trucks, it's because that has become the larger gestalt
of who you self-attribute as,'' Kilts said, using psychology-speak.
''You're a Chevy guy.'' With the help of neuromarketers, he claims,
companies can now know with certainty whether their products are making
that special connection.
To demonstrate their technique, Kilts and Meaux offered to stick my head in
the M.R.I. machine. They laid me down headfirst in the coffinlike cylinder
and scurried out to the observation room. ''Here's what I want you to do,''
Meaux said, her voice crackling over an intercom. ''I'm going to show you a
bunch of images of products and activities -- and I want you to picture
yourself using them. Don't think about whether you like them or not. Just
put yourself in the scene.''
I peered up into a mirror positioned over my head, and she began flashing
pictures. There were images of a Hummer, a mountain bike, a can of Pepsi.
Then a Lincoln Navigator, Martha Stewart, a game of basketball and dozens
more snapshots of everyday consumption. I imagined piloting the Hummer
off-road, playing a game of pickup basketball, swigging the Pepsi. (I was
less sure what to do with Martha Stewart.)
After about 15 minutes, Kilts pulled me out, and I joined him at a bank of
computers. ''Look here,'' he said, pointing to a screen that showed an
image of a brain in cross sections. He pointed to a bright yellow spot on
the right side, in the somatosensory cortex, an area that shows activity
when you emulate sensory experience -- as when I imagined what it would be
like to drive a Hummer. If a marketer finds that his product is producing a
response in this region of the brain, he can conclude that he has not made
the immediate, instinctive sell: even if a consumer has a positive attitude
toward the product, if he has to mentally ''try it out,'' he isn't
instantly identifying with it.
Kilts stabbed his finger at another glowing yellow dot near the top of the
brain. It was the magic spot -- the medial prefrontal cortex. If that area
is firing, a consumer isn't deliberating, he said: he's itching to buy.
''At that point, it's intuitive. You say: 'I'm going to do it. I want it.'
he consuming public has long had an uneasy feeling about scientists who
dabble in marketing. In 1957, Vance Packard wrote ''The Hidden
Persuaders,'' a book about marketing that featured harsh criticism of
''psychology professors turned merchandisers.'' Marketers, Packard worried,
were using the resources of the social sciences to understand consumers'
irrational and emotional urges -- the better to trick them into increased
product consumption. In rabble-rousing prose, Packard warned about
subliminal advertising and cited a famous (though, it turned out, bogus)
study about a movie theater that inserted into a film several split-second
frames urging patrons to drink Coke.
In truth, marketers only wish they had that much control. If anything,
corporations tend to look slightly askance at their admen, because there's
not much convincing evidence that advertising works as well as promised.
John Wanamaker, a department-store magnate in the late 19th century,
famously quipped that half the money he spent on advertising was wasted,
but that he didn't know which half. In their quest for a more respectable
methodology -- or perhaps more important, the appearance of one -- admen
have plundered one scientific technique after another. Demographic studies
have profiled customers by analyzing their age, race or neighborhood;
telephone surveys have queried semi-randomly selected strangers to see how
the public at large viewed a company's product.
Advertising's main tool, of course, has been the focus group, a classic
technique of social science. Marketers in the United States spent more than
$1 billion last year on focus groups, the results of which guided about
$120 billion in advertising. But focus groups are plagued by a basic flaw
of human psychology: people often do not know their own minds. Joey Reiman
is the C.E.O. of BrightHouse, an Atlanta marketing firm, and a founding
partner in the BrightHouse Institute; over years of producing marketing
concepts for companies like Coca-Cola and Red Lobster, he has come to the
conclusion that focus groups are ultimately less about gathering hard data
and more about pretending to have concrete justifications for a hugely
expensive ad campaign. ''The sad fact is, people tell you what you want to
hear, not what they really think,'' he says. ''Sometimes there's a
focus-group bully, a loudmouth who's so insistent about his opinion that it
influences everyone else. This is not a science; it's a circus.''
In contrast, M.R.I. scanning offers the promise of concrete facts -- an
unbiased glimpse at a consumer's mind in action. To an M.R.I. machine, you
cannot misrepresent your responses. Your medial prefrontal cortex will
start firing when you see something you adore, even if you claim not to
like it. ''Let's say I show you Playboy,'' Kilts says, ''and you go, 'Oh,
no, no, no!' Really? We could tell you actually like it.''
Other neuromarketers have demonstrated that we react to products in ways
that we may not be entirely conscious of. This year, for instance,
scientists working with DaimlerChrysler scanned the brains of a number of
men as they looked at pictures of cars and rated them for attractiveness.
The scientists found that the most popular vehicles -- the Porsche- and
Ferrari-style sports cars -- triggered activity in a section of the brain
called the fusiform face area, which governs facial recognition. ''They
were reminded of faces when they looked at the cars,'' says Henrik Walter,
a psychiatrist at the University of Ulm in Germany who ran the study. ''The
lights of the cars look a little like eyes.''
Neuromarketing may also be able to suss out the distinction between
advertisements that people merely like and those that are actually
effective -- a difference that can be hard to detect from a focus group. A
neuromarketing study in Australia, for instance, demonstrated that
supershort, MTV-style jump cuts -- indeed, any scenes shorter than two
seconds -- aren't as likely to enter the long-term memory of viewers,
however bracing or aesthetically pleasing they may be.
Still, many scientists are skeptical of neuromarketing. The brain, critics
point out, is still mostly an enigma; just because we can see neurons
firing doesn't mean we always know what the mind is doing. For all their
admirable successes, neuroscientists do not yet have an agreed-upon map of
the brain. ''I keep joking that I could do this Gucci shoes study, where
I'd show people shoes I think are beautiful, and see whether women like
them,'' says Elizabeth Phelps, a professor of psychology at New York
University. ''And I'll see activity in the brain. I definitely will. But
it's not like I've found 'the shoe center of the brain.''' James Twitchell,
a professor of advertising at the University of Florida, wonders whether
neuromarketing isn't just the next stage of scientific pretense on the part
of the advertising industry. ''Remember, you have to ask the client for
millions, millions of dollars,'' he says. ''So you have to say: 'Trust me.
We have data. We've done these neurotests. Go with us, we know what we're
doing.''' Twitchell recently attended an advertising conference where a
marketer discussed neuromarketing. The entire room sat in awe as the
speaker suggested that neuroscience will finally crack open the mind of the
shopper. ''A lot of it is just garbage,'' he says, ''but the garbage is so
In response to his critics, Kilts plans to publish the BrightHouse research
in an accredited academic journal. He insisted to me that his primary
allegiance is to science; BrightHouse's techniques are ''business done in
the science method,'' he said, ''not science done in the business method.''
And as he sat at his computer, calling up a 3-D picture of a brain, it was
hard not to be struck, at the very least, by the seriousness of his
passion. There, on the screen, was the medial prefrontal cortex, juggling
our conscious thinking. There was the amygdala, governing our fears, buried
deep in the brain. These are sights that he said still inspire in him
feelings of wonder. ''When you sit down and you're watching -- for the
first time in the history of mankind -- how we process complex primary
emotions like anger, it's amazing,'' he said. ''You're like, there, look at
that: that's anger, that's pleasure. When you see that roll off the
workstation, you never look back.'' You just keep going, it seems, until
you hit Madison Avenue.
Clive Thompson writes frequently about science and technology. His most
recent article for the magazine was about the future of kitchen tools.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
Bonnie Zone 6+ ETN
> [Original Message]
> From: Marge Talt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> To: <email@example.com>
> Date: 11/17/2003 12:19:33 AM
> Subject: Re: [CHAT] news of the day: t-shirts
> Hmmm... Bonnie, what you say is true, but "part of doing business" is
> also part of the bottom line. Advertising costs need to be justified
> like any business expenses. The only tax break that business costs
> get is that you can deduct a good many business expenses from your
> taxes from the standpoint of arriving at a net profit or loss, which
> is then what your tax is based upon. So, in that regard, it's a
> "break" of sorts, but it still has to be paid for. The cost of doing
> business goes into the cost of whatever you're selling as a
> business...and is passed on to the consumer in some form or other.
> So, those companies who produce tons of full color glossy catalogs
> are passing that cost on in some form; they aren't going to simply
> absorb it as a loss in most cases.
> At one point in my checkered career, I was going to open a mail order
> business and did a fair amount of research into advertising. If I
> recall correctly, direct mail advertising needs a 2% or more positive
> response (meaning sale) to break even. And, it's figured that people
> need to see an ad 7 or 9 times (can't remember which) before the
> company name sticks in the mind.
> I'm sure that mail order catalogs are calculated along those lines -
> that's why they have those customer numbers and other numbers on the
> label that the company always asks you to give them when you place an
> order - that's how they track how any ad campaign is doing...and
> sending out catalogs is part of an ad campaign. At the end of the
> year, somebody tabulates which campaign resulted in the highest
> number of sales and which didn't and the next year they either repeat
> or change tactics depending.
> The reason some firms seem to inundate us with catalogs is partly (as
> was noted) people getting on lists with slightly different names or
> both husband and wife getting on the same list, so getting 2 of any
> catalog. It's also due to the sale of lists of names and addresses,
> but if you order from a company, you're on their list (as well as the
> list of everyone who buys their list).
> Some companies (those who keep a good watch on the bottom line) will
> remove your name if you don't order after x period of time, as you
> noted; others just keep sending. Either they have found sending
> massive quantities of catalogs results in more sales or they aren't
> watching their bottom line. I'm supposing the former as big
> companies have bean counters whose job is watching bottom line.
> Getting a new catalog every month (and I get them more often than
> that from some companies) must work from their end, but it sure does
> waste paper in amounts that are hard to fathom.
> I get tons of catalogs (both business and personal). Mailman can
> hardly get the stuff in the mailbox. I'd guess that 85% of them
> arrive and go straight into the recycle bin, along with 99.99% of all
> the other direct mail stuff we get. Others get stacked and gone
> through when the pile threatens to topple and crush me - and 90% of
> those hit recycle. I keep saving them; thinking I will get a chance
> to go through them, but seldom do. Garden catalogs are different.
> The ones from nurseries that I like get read and marked and dreamed
> over and saved forever:-) The ones I wouldn't order from if they
> paid me go straight to recycle.
> What's sort of getting on my nerves lately is the magazines sending
> out monthly copies of their wares - these are coming to the business
> - in hopes, I guess that we'll subscribe. If we wanted the durn
> things, we would have subscribed to them on our own hook; they are
> well known publications - it's straight into recycle for them and it
> takes my time to do that - not only that, but we get 2 and 3 copies
> of some of them! For over a year, we received 3 copies of TV Guide -
> which nobody here uses - and which seemed to come out every week.
> They have FINALLY quit sending that one, thank heavens!
> Marge Talt, zone 7 Maryland
> Editor: Gardening in Shade
> Current Article: Variegation on the Green Theme - Part One
> Complete Index of Articles by Category and Date
> All Suite101.com garden topics :
> > From: Bonnie Holmes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> > Yes, but the printing is "part of doing business" and business
> costs get
> > tax breaks. If the mailings get a certain return, I don't know
> what the
> > average is, then it is worth it to the business...like advertising
> > Not everyone who sees the ad will buy but if enough do, it is worth
> it. I
> > have noticed that some mail order companies will drop you if you
> > order after a certain period of time. The ones that really get me
> are the
> > ones that send a new catalog every other month.
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