Step Away From My Brain!

I suppose we need a little pithy commentary here to lighten things up a bit. I'm sure the natural choice would be to hold forth about Michael Jackson, but there's nothing natural about him - or about me for that matter. Instead, let's head north of the border to see what those crazy Canadians are talking about these days.

A recent article in the Canadian newsmagazine, Macleans carried a little tidbit that I found quite troublesome. Marketing gurus have added a new weapon to the arsenal they are so intent on using to control our buying habits...neuromarketing. The truly Orwellian genius behind this little weapon of mass consumption (WMC) is the use of brain scans to determine what makes people respond to products.

Let's repeat that again. BRAIN SCANS! Marketeers are no longer satisfied with subliminal messaging, brightly colored packaging, oppressivly agressive advertising and rampant stadium renaming to get us to buy crap we don't need. Now they're on the slippery slope toward imprinting our very DNA with messages like Faster Pussycat...Buy...Buy! (and yes, that is an homage to Russ Meyer.)

Of course, the marketeers put their own spin on this new technology. After all, they really only intend it to help mankind by utilizing value-packed synergism to bring the absolute best product offerings to market in a competitive, high-quality and low-cost way. Watch for cheese flavored hair spray any day now.

"What we are trying to do," said Karl Moore, a management professor at McGill University, "is understand what people's emotional visceral responses are to marketing stimuli so we can be more effective in things we design." I don't know about you, but I'd prefer to not be visceral about anything I buy. That suggests a certain intimacy that I'd rather not have with my products...well designed or not.

The article makes a case for this being "leading edge stuff", which I am sure it is. In fact, a little too leading edge for my taste. When it comes to tinkering with my brain in the interests of mass consumption, I'll take the bleeding edge every time. There have already been tests involving sight, smell and sound. Can scratch and sniff television commercials be far behind? "We used to joke in this business that it's not rocket science," said Fred Auchterlonie, a Sr. Veep at one of the companies developing the technology. "Now we say it's just brain surgery."

I'm not laughing Fred.

There is a strong parallel between this scheme and a core belief that I have about humanity. To whit, we are much better at finding very creative ways to damage ourselves than we are at finding ways to use technology for good. In other words, we can find ways to better market sugar water full of empty calories, but we can't use the technology to keep a child molester off the street (Oh dear! How did that Michael Jackson reference creep in there?).

I suppose I should sleep more soundly at night though. The article points out that Ralph Nader's Commercial Alert organization is on the case (surely a case of the loonies guarding the bin). They've already fired off an appropriately nasty letter to the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. The letter asks, "What would happen in this country if corporate marketers and political consultants could literally peer inside our brains?" I'm sure that the Republican Chairperson, John McCain, probably thought, "What a great idea. I wonder if I can get these guys to help me out in the 2008 elections." In fact, Ralph was probably thinking the same thing.

Maybe I shouldn't feel safer at all.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Tuesday, June 14, 2005

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