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Tread Lightly Before Adopting Untested Tactics

Last weekend (Nov. 13, 2010), The New York Times business section published a fascinating column on the emerging practice of neuromarketing. The column described how the practice uses biometrics and other measuring techniques from neuroscience to evaluate consumers’ perceptions of content, messaging and advertising.

Like other still-emerging practices, neuromarketing presents tremendous opportunities to savvy public relations practitioners and marketers who can envision how its blending of technology, behavioral science and traditional marketing practices might benefit their clients. But like many other emerging technologies and practices, there are inherent risks that may arise if neuromarketing —or similar emerging concepts — is not thoroughly understood, and if its impact and level of influence is not respected by public relations and marketing professionals.

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times that I submitted on behalf of PRSA, I noted that, “Advancements in technology have given marketers exciting, and often, highly successful  methods of reaching and influencing consumers. But for each new technology, there is a need for proper research to establish ethical practices and standards.”

Due to previous attempts by marketers to play into people’s subconscious-purchasing decisions (e.g. the old practice of brainwashing), the public is often wary of any attempt at influence in a manner that is not inherently upfront and transparent.

And for good reason.

Because neuromarketing is a still-emerging field with little public research to understand the full impact of its influence, marketers have a responsibility to the public and the consumers they target to more thoroughly understand the science behind it (and for that matter, any new technology or industry practice they engage in) before jumping in with a targeted ad or marketing message.

In that regard, it was encouraging to read in The Times column that that the Advertising Research Foundation, an industry research and advocacy group, is attempting to develop industry-wide standards for neuromarketing as part of its “NeuroStandards Initiatives.”

The next decade, like its predecessor, will likely offer an array of fascinating opportunities in the development of emerging practices and technologies that will enhance the strategic business value of public relations . . . if used properly and within ethical standards and best practices.

Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA, is chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, and director of partnership development at HGTV in Knoxville, Tenn.


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