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.