Neuromarketing: The First Years
This timeline (Neuromarketing: The First Years) is a project by members of the NESSHI initiative. NESSHI is a 3 year, € 1.2 million Open Research Area (ORA) project supported by four European research agencies. It was launched in 2011 to map the development of new neuro-social sciences and study their impact on society. The outcome will be an empirical assessment of the scope and nature of European neuro-social sciences, with an understanding of their impact on culture, policies and industries.
Neuromarketing emerged in the early 2000s as a trending topic both in academic and business circles. This timeline shows key moments in this young history.
● June 3, 2002 – First neuromarketing company created (Press release announcing the creation of the Brighthouse Institute for Thought Sciences)
The Brighthouse Institute for Thought Science was created by Joey Reiman, a marketing consultant. Emory University was associated to this venture through the participation of an Assistant Professor, and the use of its fMRI facilities.
● October 25, 2002 – An Inaugural Lecture Devoted to Neuromarketing (full lecture here)
In the Netherlands, Prof. Dr. Ale Smidts from Erasmus University of Rotterdam devotes his inaugural lecture to the topic of consumer behavior and neuroscience, calling it “neuromaketing”. Neuromarketing is also often referred to as “consumer decision neuroscience” in academic circles, possibly to avoid the commercial undertones of “neuromarketing”. Today, a few academic research centres develop a focus on consumer neuroscience, such as Erasmus University, INSEAD in France, Zeppelin University in Germany or Stanford in the US.
● September 2003 – Neuromarketing makes the cover of Forbes (Cover story on neuromarketing – the meaning of neuromarketing will be decisively shaped by this piece of reporting by Melanie Wells)
After more than a year of news reporting focusing on the launch of the Brighthouse Institute for Thought Sciences in the U.S., this Forbes cover story will change the narrative on neuromarketing. The article shows that neuromarketing studies are conducted in different countries, using a diversity of technologies, and is backed by powerful players in academia and business.
● October 26, 2003 -“There’s a Sucker Born in Every Medial Prefrontal Cortex” (article from New York Times)
Soon after the cover story in Forbes, the New York Times Magazine run a story on neuromarketing with a memorable title. Launching a tradition, the writer of this article laid down in the fMRI of a neuromarketing company (here, the Brighthouse Institute for Thought Sciences), and shared his experiences: “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.” This NYT piece attracted a lot of attention on neuromarketing.
● December 2003 – Commercial Alert targets neuromarketing at Emory University
Commercial Alert is an advocacy group co-founded by Ralph Nader with the mandate to “protect communities from commercialism”. In December 2003, its Executive Director Gary Ruskin co-signed a letter with academics from prestigious universities requesting Emory University to stop performing neuromarketing activities. Faculty members from Emory University were affiliated to the Brighthouse Institute for Thought Sciences, a company founded in 2002 which rented the fMRI facilities of Emory to run brain imaging studies for client companies. The letter sent to Emory President James Wagner was published as a press release and probably influenced the future of neuromarketing by discouraging academics to associate with commercial neuromarketing, in fear of negative publicity.
● July 2004 – Brain scam? (Nature Neuroscience warns about the poor scientific standards in neuromarketing studies)
The influential scientific journal Nature Neurosciencepublishes an editorial criticizing the lack of rigorous scientific standards (such as peer-review) in the recent neuromarketing studies and concludes with a message for the businesses that pay for the expensive services of neuromarketing firms: buyers beware!
● October 14, 2004 – The Pepsi Challenge – in an fMRI (study of McClure and Montague)
Samuel McClure, a young researcher in the lab of Read Montague (pictured), authored a study on the differences of appreciation between Coke and Pepsi: brain scans reveal that branding effects can be observed in the neural activity of subjects drinking Coke. This experiment received a wide media attention, and is cited more than 200 times in the scientific literature.
● November 11, 2007 – Can neuromarketing and politics mix?
The presidential elections of 2008 were still a year ahead but a team of researchers from UCLA and political consultants already put Republican and Democrat voters in an fMRI scanner to observe their political preferences for the candidates to the primaries.
Besides some not that great results (“Obama has work to do”), the reports of this study published in the New York Times triggered a tempete of criticisms.
● January 14, 2008 – The price of a wine influences how it tastes (Hilke Plassmann study)
In early 2008 Hilke Plassmann, then a post-doc at the California Institute of Technology, leads a study which shows that varying the price of a wine influences in predictable ways the rating of this wine by consumers. While this is an effect known for long, this study shows where and how this happens in the brain: the medial orbitofrontal cortex, which combines basic sensory information with higher cognitive processes, becomes more active for more expensive wines. In contrast, brain regions where the basic sensory inputs are treated remain insensitive to price changes.
I have just found this timeline on Clement Levallois’ webpage, but I am sure it will be further developed, as there are many other important moments and relevant studies. Moreover, I should add one more event to this:
● February 3, 2012 – Neuromarketing Science & Business Association is born (more info here)
NMSBA is the global trade association for all those engaged in neuromarketing; it is headquartered in the Netherlands and its organization is managed by Carla Nagel.