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Flying Seraph

Are You About To Buy Some Neuro-Bollocks?

Before you get sold a ‘brain science’ or ‘neuro’ dodgy, here’s an 11-minute TED talk from a real Neuroscientist –Dr. Molly Crockett of Oxford and UCLA – that could stop you buying a load of Neuro-nonsense.

Here’s why I think you should listen to it. Because history is repeating itself. And I have an overwhelming sense of déjà vu as I watch the same car crash happening all over again.

At least 15 years ago, a study on quantitative advertising research – copy-testing/pre-testing etc. – reported the various techniques to be ‘about as reliable as the toss of a coin’. (Yeah, yeah, bring on your validation studies – everyone did so at the time….)

I couldn’t help thinking ‘that’s a low bar for a good marketer’. Surely they’re better than the toss of a coin?

Which made me reflect on the many sensational clients I’ve worked with in my time. Their judgement is terrific. Their intuition – more often than not – is great.

So I began to wonder why they/their organisation would need a 50:50 decision-making tool. Which pretends it’s reliable because it is ‘sciencey’; because it has numbers. I can speculate. But I really don’t have a satisfactory answer.

(My memory is dodgy at the best of times. Clearly the cute sound bite has stuck. I am pretty sure it was a large-scale, split-cable study. I seem to recall the lovely Alice Sylvester was a co-author).

Leap forward to 2015 and heeeere’s ‘Neuro’.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled to see that we’re making advances in the brain science space. But here’s the caution: ‘Neuro’ is nowhere near usable for communications/brand/marketing research yet.

Just as before, there are folk with vested interests. Many of them are the same dudes who, a decade ago, were proclaiming their pre-test methods infallible. Only this time they’re claiming ‘neuro’ can do more than reputable neuroscientists would claim.

Let’s be honest, the bulk of ‘neuro’ as used in communication research is currently far less reliable than even the toss of a coin.

Which means – Marketers, ECDs and CEOs – I’d infinitely prefer to know what your gut tells you.

For your gut is far more reliable than what some pseudo-scientist claims other peoples’ brains are telling you.

Please follow me on Twitter: @MarkSareff

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