MR meets MRI: this is your brain on advertising

Barbarainfluence, Research

Market researchers are turning to neuromarketing — aka brain scans — to understand secret reactions to advertising, media and product packaging. The goal is discovering what triggers your brain’s pleasure center, spurring that purchase instinct. Dr. Joshua Freedman, a neuropsychiatrist at FKF Applied Research and professor at UCLA, has used brain-scanning technology to test the effectiveness of political campaigns and Super Bowl ads over the last two years. Is he pioneering a new era in market research?

The brain scan technology is a form of MRI, called functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI. According to the company’s website:

“The fMRI allows us to view what is going on inside the human brain while subjects watch, listen, talk or think. Using the data generated from the fMRI, our analytical methods help uncover previously hidden or suppressed thoughts and emotions. The insights gained into human decision making are both startling and actionable.”

“Looking beyond the spoken word provides immense and actionable insights into a brand, a competitive framework, advertising and visual images and cues. ”

Dr. Freedman says top ad agencies and Fortune 100 Companies are already embracing brain scanning technology as part of their market research. He will discuss how fMRI displays the brain’s reaction to ads, brands, and packaged goods, and accurately predicts what consumers will buy in the store, during PROOF. PROOF is an annual event for the packaging industry put on by the Institute for International Research. Find more at

During a segment on ABC last month, Dr. Freedman explained that, as a rule of thumb, focus groups and surveys are inaccurate because people say almost the opposite of how they’re responding. It is not a case of misrepresentation — people tend to like ads that don’t activate their brains at all. Neuromarketing shows actual brain activity and thus reveals which ads might trigger a mission to buy.

Find more about fMRI, Superbowl and election advertising studies, ethics, and more at the FKF website link below. Find the ABC Catalyst story, “Why We Buy — the science of shopping” [here].

If the ABC report is accurate — that 50% of all ads incite no brain activity whatsoever — it’s likely that brain scan optimization will become a lucrative segment of the market research and consulting industry as fast as you can fry an egg.