Neuromarketing: The First Years

On June 4, 2012

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.

14 Responses to “Neuromarketing: The First Years”

  • Hi,
    Interesting blog with useful content. Can I just correct one or two points however. I conducted the first NM studies while working at the Un of Sussex in around 1990. Was featured on BBC TV’s ‘Tomorrow’s World around 1992. Used very primitive early form of non-medical EEG in my research into brain patterns associated with TV commercials (photo available if interested). System was called Mindscan. No commercial interest from advertisers so dropped the idea until around 2000 when I was instrumental in setting up Neuroco (later taken over by Neurofocus). Featured articles in several major magazines including Web 2.0. I am currently writing a book on those early years. Best wishes, Dr David Lewis-Hodgson

    Sussex Sus

    • Hello Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson! Thank you for your reply and information! I would be very interested to know more about the study you conducted around 1990. Do you have the recording of that TV show? Also, please contact me when you will publish your book. Kind regards, Monica

      • Hi, Thanks for you prompt and positive reply. I have a copy of the BBC TV show and will send it across via a drop box. The quality is not very wonderful, it is an off-air recording via a video tape. Also I can send
        you a photograph of the original equipment. I was an academic with no real interest in commercial work but required stimuli for studies of brain patterns and hit on the idea of using 30 sec TV commercials. Wrote to various ad agencies requesting commercials unseen in the South of England where my participants were based. Generated some interest in the trade press but never made any serious attemptsto follow up the matter. The Mindmirror had no method for recording or analysing the EEG data other than onto a stereotape. It was designed by two friends of mine (Jeff Blundell an electronics engineer and Maxwell Cade a therapist) for use in therapy. I developed the electronics needed to digititise the analogue signal and wrote a programme to present the data in a user friendly form. I also conducted the world’s first ambulatory study in a shopping mall. The participants had to push a small hand-cart carrying the EEG (an advance on the Mindmirror) the computer, a car battery and alternator to provide main’s power. Hardly discrete (!) but we still managed to obtain some interesting data.

        yoyou a photograpj

  • Hello again! I think this deserves to be known (for people interested in neuromarketing research), so I am looking forward to seeing this video. It is interesting to find the roots and the first ideas of how it all started as a field of research. I will be waiting for the video (you can send the link using the contact form). Thank you for your messages!

    • Hi, I will get the video uploaded plus a photo of the EEG I used in those early studies. As I am sure you are aware analysis of commercials using EEG had been used in the late ’80’s by some US researchers such as Reeves, et al (1987) Emotional Television Scenes and
      Hemispheric Specialization, Human Communications Research V 15 No 4. David

    • Video and still picture can be collected from:
      Description: EEG JPG:
      Description: Tomorrows World Video:
      Many thanks for your interest in my early research. David

  • Hi,
    I am Clement Levallois, the author of the timeline that Monica kindly shared here (thx!). I am following this conversation with interest and just want to add that this timeline will still evolve. It will reflect the content of a paper on the history of neuromarketing which we just submitted (with Ale Smidts and Paul Wouters) to the journal Biosocieties. The paper focuses on the period after 2002, since we make the choice of following the term “neuromarketing”, which to the best of our knowledge was coined at this time. Of course we are aware that neuromarketing as a body of practices and technologies can be said to have older historical roots – we mention EEG studies of TV ads dating from the mid-1980s, and fMRI studies dating from the 1990s. We’ll post an open access copy of the paper on the SSRN platform when / if it is accepted.

    • Hi Clement! Thank you for your comment, it’s great that you follow this discussion. Also, your explanation was needed as you can see, and it makes sense (to have it all from 2002 nowadays).
      Of course, it is important to acknowledge the work before and to understand how this evolved into a research field. I am planning to “dig” more into this (what happened before 2002), and when I will have more info I will share it here.
      When the paper is accepted, tell me in order to look for it, read it and add it to the list on this blog (
      By the way Clement, are you attending NeuroPsychoEconomics conference in Rotterdam? If so, see you there!

    • Hi Clement,
      I would not like you to regard my comments as in any way being a criticism of your excellent and most helpful time-line. I have never made any serious effort to publicise my role in the early development of NM as this is not my major research interest and, in any event, the whole matter lay dormant for more than a decade until a chance meeting with a marketing executive brought it back into my mind. I think QEEG, especially, offers an important and potentially extremely valuable market research tool. Given our current profound ignorance of brain function, it does concern me that some of the claims made and the expectations of non scientists raised, go beyond what can be stated with any degree of confidence.

  • I thank Clement for the fine work he has done. Joey Reiman

  • Hi Diana! Is it possible to get the recording featured on BBC TV’s ‘Tomorrow’s World about the Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson work?
    I’m very interested in knowing the first steps in NM.

    Thank you!

  • For those who are interested, I have uploaded the BBC Tommorow’s World programme excerpt where Dr Lewis of Mindlab demonstrates the early application of Neuromarketing. He has got less hair now.

    Also of note is Dr Lewis’ new Book called IMPULSE:Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It out next month.

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