No, it's not the matrix reloaded. Or the matrix...what it is involves observing what parts of the brain react to sensory inputs using MRI. By understanding how images cause neurons and dendrites in the brain to 'fire' and recording these patterns - storytellers in the future will be able to customize media to elicit a desired response...whether it is enjoying a film or deciding whether or not to purchase a product.
Great New trick: wiring the brain of the consumer
The Philosopher's Stone of market research may lie in Steady State Topography, writes Paul McIntyre - FairFax Digital (Australia)
The neuroscientists have finally arrived in adland. For years the advertising industry, TV producers and Hollywood film studios have talked of the rosy future when brain circuitry will tell them exactly what is going to turn on the masses before they see it. Now it appears they've got their wish and an Australian neuroscientist is leading the charge.
After four years of trials and tribulation with multinational companies in North America and Europe, Professor Richard Silberstein from Swinburne University's Brain Sciences Institute in Melbourne is taking a punt that the Australian advertising industry will embrace his brain-monitoring technology before he goes global with the concept.
In the 1990s Silberstein developed brain-monitoring technology to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and his expertise is in cognitive neuroscience, which explores the relationship between brain activity and thinking and feeling states.
Silberstein was a central figure in developing a technology called Steady State Topography (SST) which, via a series of felt-tip sensors inside a headset, measures the brain's electrical activity. It is SST and the portability of the hardware which suddenly makes brain science commercially useful to the communications sector.
Dozens of trials with international companies such as Ford and Nestle have produced intriguing results and, if ad agencies and marketers take to the concept, it will revolutionise the market research industry and challenge many assumptions of what constitutes effective advertising for TV, print, online, outdoor and even in-store.
By focusing on the intensity of electrical activity in specific parts of the brain, SST enables marketers to predict how people will respond to messages. The level of emotional response to an ad, for instance, is measured by the intensity of activity in the back right-hand side of the brain. Long-term memory "encoding" resides near the middle of the brain.
Silberstein's work in the application of SST to both the medical and communication industries presents some challenging observations for both professions. He argues, for instance, that what many diagnose as ADHD in children requires a rethink.
"One of the most important abilities is creativity," he says. "The ability to see relationships between things others don't normally see. While attention is obviously important, people who are overly focused and brilliantly organised are quite often the ones who are least creative. The creative ones tend to be a little bit crazy but they have this ability to join the dots."
Creativity is particularly relevant for marketing. In the SST advertising trials, creativity and emotional engagement have proven crucial to messages being "encoded" in long-term memory, an argument touted for decades by ad agencies as central to advertising effectiveness but questioned in the past decade.
"Emotion is one of the most important things. Probably the most important," says Silberstein. "The middle part of the brain relates to longer term memory and the triggers are emotional. That's our understanding now.
"When you experience something that's encoded strongly, and generally that's driven by emotions, even though you may not be able to identify or verbalise the emotion, these regions [of the brain] become active."
The implications for the market research industry are significant. So far, advertisers gauge how "on message" their ads are by asking people to state their responses, either in written surveys or small focus groups. SST techniques address problems such as the influence of dominant personalities in focus groups and also the "light lies" often given in quantitative research.
"This approach does not let us mind read," says Silberstein. "You can't read minds. The only way I know what you are thinking is by asking you. What this sort of technology can tell you is how you are thinking, not what you are thinking."