New science that gets in your head
I always attributed the appeal of Hot Pockets to the universal allure of melted cheese – that is, until the realization that Eric Kogelschatz, senior digital account executive for marketing communications agency in Cleveland and panelist for Big Brother in Your Brain: Neuroscience & Marketing, was behind the brand's digital marketing. Now I'm wondering if my frontal lobe has been co-opted by henchmen hellbent on taking over the world one doughy, microwavable pouch at a time.
By combining the fields of neuroscience and marketing, a straight-out-of-science-fiction hybrid has emerged: neuromarketing. Kogelschatz, doubtless playing down his plans for world domination, claims that advertising has historically used elements of psychology without much focus on hard science; it was more of a gut feeling. "Neuromarketers are able to analyze the brain activity of consumers utilizing functional magnetic resonance imaging or steady state topography test," Kogelschatz says. What that means is marketers can find out what logos or other stimuli affect what parts of the brain. "Neuromarketing as a methodology is not widely accepted by the advertising and marketing industry, and guidelines have yet to be defined," Kogelschatz admits. And while he reassures me that advertisers and marketers follow "explicit rules to guide ethical practices," I'll certainly be eating my Hot Pockets with a happy stomach and a wary eye.
Slightly less nefarious-seeming is Netflix Prize guru Greg McAlpin, who keeps his hands clean by making computers do all of his mind-reading dirty work. The Netflix Prize offered $1 million to a team that could improve the accuracy of the DVD rental outfit's recommendation system by more than 10%. McAlpin's crew came in a painfully close second place, but the lessons learned by the top teams made waves throughout the field of recommendation science. McAlpin remembers the haters: "A lot of people said that it was impossible, that no one would ever be able to reach the 10-percent mark – that it couldn't be done because of individual variance." And it was true to a certain extent that no one could crunch the numbers and surpass that elusive and lucrative goal. Only once teams started putting their heads together and combining their algorithms, artificial intelligence, and other modes of calculation did the finish line of a 10% increase in accuracy become possible.
But what's to stop them there? Once computers start understanding our desires, how far down the slippery slope must we slide before robots think they know what programming is best for us and force us to watch it at gunpoint? McAlpin says: "I think there's a line in the sand that you can't improve [upon]. They call it the noise floor. It's the lowest point that you can get to before things appear random – before things are just not predictable." He might be right ... or he might just already know what I want to hear. It's a catch-22.
Editor's Note: Eric Kogleschatz would like us to clarify that he is a student of neuromarketing, not a practitioner, and that no neuromarketing is used in the making or marketing of Hot Pockets.
Big Brother in Your Brain: Neuroscience & Marketing
Saturday, March 13, 11am, Hilton F
Crowdsourcing: The Ensemble's Experience With the Netflix Prize
Saturday, March 13, 12:30pm, ACC Ballroom A
Mind Control: Psychology for the Web
Saturday, March 13, 12:30pm, Hilton F
The Art & Science of Seductive Interactions
Monday, March 15, 9:30am, ACC Ballroom A