NeuroFocus and the New Scientist: Don’t believe the hype.

3 09 2010

NeuroFoucs and the New Scientist are claiming that a 12% spike in sales for the edition that NeuroFocus helped choose a cover for proves that Neuro-Marketing techniques will help you shift more magazines.

Wow, quite a claim.  I’d love it if it were true (even if it is a big rival that did the work), but as Roger Dooley pointed out in the run up to the edition hitting news-stands, the experiment itself might have been done very scientifically but the validation of the result certainly wasn’t as there is no control group for comparison.

The truth is there was a huge amount of PR coverage over the fact that this collaboration/experiment was taking place.  I know I’m keeping an eye out for neuroscience work, but I certainly heard far more about New Scientist in the run up to this edition than I had about any previous edition ever.  I’d be interested to hear if that’s also the case for non-neurosciencey people as well?

So is it not fairer to conclude that effective PR and marketing shifts magazines (hardly revolutionary)?  Sure, the neuro stuff may have helped (otherwise I’d be out of a job) but to imply the choice of cover alone, however it was decided upon, is responsible for this 12% spike is pretty misleading in my opinion.  At best we could say that it may have contributed in some way, but really there’s no way of explaining how much of that spike the cover choice drove.

Even if that could be clearly demonstrated, there’s also no comparison to traditional research here.  Unless it is shown that people explicitly rating these covers would have led to something different being chosen and that this choice led to lower sales than the neuroscience approach we really haven’t learned anything.

This type of poorly founded hype will garner some attention, but I don’t think it’s helpful for neuroscience in the long term if it wants to be taken seriously as a marketing discipline.

UDPATE: I’ve just seen this piece from Research that makes many of the same points I’ve made above.  In fairness, the editor of New Scientist acknowledges that ‘there is no real way of telling’ if it was the Neuroscience work that boosted the sales or the surrounding PR.  A.K. Pradeep is far more bullish – according to him “What these results for New Scientist add is clear, unmistakable and very public validation for the core science that underlies all that we do.” – if you don’t mind Doctor Pradeep, I may seek a second opinion.

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5 responses

3 09 2010
Tweets that mention NeuroFocus and the New Scientist: Don’t believe the hype. « The Research Geek -- Topsy.com

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Thomas Wagner and Neuro Now, Andrew Jerina. Andrew Jerina said: ResearchGeek Post: NeuroFocus and the New Scientist: Don't believe the hype: http://wp.me/pM8jy-33 #MRX [...]

10 09 2010
Quince Hunsicker

You haven’t thought it through. So what would be the ideal experiment in your opinion – take 3 covers find a Neuromarketing result, and find the traditional research result for the SAME 3 covers, and run them both as covers for the SAME magazine in the SAME month? Idiotic at best, and ridiculous at worst. I think you are just envious that there is an IDENTIFIABLE 12% SALES UPTICK. I think the title of our article is sensational, and conveys your envy better than the “rationale” you identify. Given that you have identified you are a competitor to NeuroFocus, it further lowers your credibility, and cheapens the vitriolic reasons you fling. Applaud success and build on it instead of being small minded.

10 09 2010
researchgeek

There’s no doubt this was successful. I’m not questioning the 12% uplift. I’m questioning whether that was a neuromarketing success or just a plain old marketing success. To do that you would need some kind of control group, or at the very least a model which strips out all of the additional marketing effects.

I recognise that a control group is difficult in a practical sense (although people do test using split runs) which is why it wasn’t done, but it means the way we talk about the success has to be more measured – exactly in the way it is when the editor of the New Scientist himself talks about it. At the very least there is a need to show whether the cover choice would have been different as result of traditional research methods regardless of whether it was practical to test the sales differences. Having neither modelled this to remove the additional noise around the experiment, nor done any comparison to traditional methods, I just can’t see how it can be claimed that neuroscience was responsible for this 12% uplift.

And as for vitriol, I think my post was fairly measured and light-hearted, unlike your comment which calls me idiotic and ridiculous and dismisses the critique as being solely based on jealousy – it isn’t, it’s based on a fairly basic knowledge of how sales effects should be measured.

10 09 2010
Tom Ewing

There are all sorts of ways you could run a similar experiment online with a bit of cheap A/B testing and get verifiable results, it seems to me.

10 09 2010
Chris

I have no vested interest in any one neuro-marketing technique. I do have a vested interest in the success of my clients’ business. I believe this success can be built on robust research. One principle of robust research is: “Correlation does not imply causation”. Research Geek proposes feasible alternative explanations why correlation may not imply causation in this case.

Am I really writing this?

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