Saturday, February 26, 2005

The psychology of purchasing

The L.A. Times describes scientists measuring how the sight of a beautiful Ipod, or a trustworthy senator, affects the electrical activity of the brain. Marketers in a very crowded marketplace are hoping to use these measurements to predict how potential buyers will view their product:

For all their differences, objects and celebrity faces were reduced to a common denominator: a spasm of synapses in a part of the cortex called Brodmann's area 10, a region associated with a sense of identity and social image.

It would probably be unfair to point out that this study was done in Hollywood ( The reaction in both sets of brains was intense. The brains reflexively sought to fulfill desires or avoid humiliation ) so let's assume that people really do engage their brains before buying, or deciding how to vote. This is interesting information-- very interesting to me-- gotten using some very fancy electronics. But the marketing utility of what is being gained, especially given the smallish samples sizes, may not match the expense of the machinery. One of their success stories, Pepsi, clawed out a market for itself long before there was an MRI machine. There are plenty of low-tech approaches . My favorite story, no link, was that a videotape set up in a boutique showed that customers entering a store were more likely to glance left than to glance right. Low tech, large numbers, linked to purchases. Seems more effective to me.

More interesting to me is the thrill-o-meter being developed by British scientists. When you're really getting goosebumps, your skin conductance changes, via the same nervous system effect that lie detectors also try to catch. The scientists are interested measuring viewer responses to video games or movies, in order to stoke them up for thrill hounds. But I think they're missing the real potential. Ever since Harry met Sally , there has been public awareness of an information gap between men and women regarding how fun the sex is. Men supply a pretty reliable barometer, but I think these thrill-o-meters might find a ready market for people curious about women. Just slap it on, someplace discreet, maybe during the risotto , and for the rest of the night you'll get real-time efficacy measures.

On second thought, maybe I don't want to know.

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