Not many years ago, the concept of “neuromarketing” was presented as a revolutionary discipline. Introduced as the newest buzz word along such topics as neuroscience, emotions, sensory, unconscious, subliminal, neuromarketing was presented as the key to understanding consumer behavior. Those most passionate about the subject promised companies that it could even help them read their client’s minds.
As the concept continues to evolve, enthusiasm around neuromarketing has turned into an interesting debate regarding its reach, ethics and reliability. Now some even say it's time to give the practice its rightful place in the scientific community.
But first, what is neuromarketing? Roberto Álvarez, a researcher from the IE Business School, defines it as “the fusion of knowledge of neuroscience, economics and marketing.” In other words, it is the applied studies and technologies withiin the field of neurology -- such as functional magnetic resonance, electroencephalography and transcraneal magnetic resonance -- to determine the brain’s reactions to certain stimuli or tasks.
“From the marketing point of view, we are interested in establishing a link between the emotional reactions in the brain to stimuli or tasks," says Álvarez. "Some 95% of the decisions we take are basically emotional. Only the remaining 5% represent a rational process that takes place outside the emotional decision, often to justify it.”
Getting to know these cerebral reactions gives companies the opportunity to construct predictive behavior models for consumers, and with it allegiance to both specific products and brands. The potential economic payoff is vast.
The latest advancement in the field strives to adjust and improve the stimuli to which groups of people will be exposed, until they find the “perfect brain reaction and response to both the adequate and the ideal,” explains Álvarez. The five senses are targeted, adjusting smell, colors, sounds, textures and temperatures.
The director for the Neuroeconomics Centre in the Diego Portales University in Chile, René San Martín, notes that neuromarketing today appears more as an “entrepreneurial effort than as a scientific or academic one. It is very hard to find an academic department in a University that dedicates to neuromarketing.”
Powers of persuasion
Neuromarketing has defenders and detractors. Some have categorized it as a pseudoscience. Critics say it lacks scientific studies that validate or revise findings. Indeed, most attention to the discipline comes from the private sector, and not academia. The companies will use their findings to eventually implement them in commercial strategies. And, obviously, companies compete and don’t want the neighbor to find out. “Part of the status of science of our time has to do with passing through a process of revision. Neuromarketing doesn’t offer that,” confirms San Martín.
Álvarez counters that the discipline is in the beginning stages, and “have a very solid scientific base whose results are extraordinarily positive.” He adds that much of the negative criticism around it is due to prejudice because of lack of knowledge and reactions to fear of change.
The ethical side of neuromarketing is also up for debate. Is it ethical, for example, for a store to use stimuli in order to induce them to purchase something that otherwise they wouldn’t buy?
Miguel Muñoz, CEO of Conecta Research & Consulting, who has a PhD from the University of Edinburg warns that the ethical component arises the moment we accept to utilize knowledge of perception and decision-making in human beings.
San Martín says persuasion was not invented by neuromarketing, and historically has also been used in political campaigns in modern democracies. He does, however, acknowledge that it is hard to know how powerful such techniques could become as neuromarketing research advances.
“There must be the proper use of knowledge," he says. "It is the people’s responsibility to know about the tools that are used to persuade us."
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
- Green Is Ugly: Style Problems Plague Clean Energy Push ... ›
- Solar Power: Researchers Map Out Colombia's Sunshine Hotspots ... ›
- EVs Start Moving Latin American Cities To Sustainability ... ›