Known as neuromarketing, the idea is to take neuroimaging methods, like those used in an MRI scan, and apply them to better understanding of why some products are appealing while others are not. And the concept has recently gained considerable popularity, according to the article's authors.
The researchers, Gregory Berns and Dan Ariely of Duke University in North Carolina, caution that neuromarketing may never be cheap enough to replace traditional ways of understanding consumer attitudes to products and advertising, such as focus groups. However, they see two reasons why neuromarketing could still have significant potential - firstly because it is possible that neuroimaging could become cheaper and faster than other marketing methods over time; and secondly, because it could provide marketers with information that would be unobtainable through more traditional means.
"The most promising application of neuroimaging methods to marketing may come before a product is even released ¡ª when it is just an idea being developed," they wrote.
Just last month, Campbell's altered its labels after a two-year study using neuromarketing, analyzing indicators such as changes in skin moisture levels and heart rate, as people looked at various pictures of soup bowls and logos. For years, the company had simply asked consumers about the stimuli that were most likely to lead them to buy a product, but found that what people said worked had little relation to sales.
Following its neuromarketing-based redesign however, the company said: "Research indicated that the new labels increased purchase intent among consumers."
If implemented at the initial product design stage, the use of neuromarketing could mean huge savings in the long-run on products destined to flop.
Even major food and beverage players sometimes get it wrong: Post Cereals' Cröonchy Stars, featuring the Muppet Show's Swedish chef, lasted about a year in the late 80s, and Coca-Cola's Coke with Lime lasted a similar length of time following its launch in 2005.
And McDonald's famously spent an estimated $300m on the production and marketing of its Arch Deluxe. The burger, released in 1996, was intended to appeal to the adult market, but was gradually discontinued as it proved unpopular with consumers.