Friday, October 28, 2005

Hunting wabbits.

I’ve always believed that, as predator/prey relationships go, marketing is a fair fight. We brand types have money and entertainment and cleverness on our side, and consumers have common sense and cynicism on theirs. And the hunt continually improves both species: The cleverer we get, the more cynical they get, and vice versa. More than level, the playing field actually tips a bit in their direction because they can always say no. There have been times, in fact, when I’ve felt more like Elmer Fudd than Wile E. Coyote, whose prey was mostly lucky and barely sentient.

I hated that freakin’ bird.

Anyway, so this whole neuromarketing thing gives me the heebie jeebies. Science has offered itself to business to help us do for consumers what trains and breech loading rifles did for buffalo. Lurid images of people having their brains scanned while they look at pictures of political candidates or bottles of beer fill academic research grant applications like so much porn. And a certain breed of marketer drools in anticipation of the long overdue end of imagination and dialogue in the process of selling things.

Controlling people’s minds. Yeah, that sounds ethical. Fun, too.

Here’s why it will fail: People aren’t just creatures of their urges. If they were, beer would cost more than a buck a bottle, and nobody would ever sell an Abdominizer ever again. We’ve got consciences, cerebral cortexes, superegos or whatever else your particular preference in social science tells you is the sensible part of being human. Not that it always wins, but it’s always there, putting up a fair fight against the wicked id.

Besides which, the neuromarketers have gone and told everybody what they’re up to. Duh. Now they’ll be on guard. Even stupid marketing will be assumed to be masterful manipulation. Nobody will believe anything anymore. Good luck trying to sell anything then.

And if it does work? I’m out. Take the Bimmer, take the Rolex. I’m not trading my black turtleneck for a lab coat. Give Wilson Bryan Key my job. If that crackpot turns out to have been a prophet, I’d rather starve.

Neuromarketing. Man, I’d love to hear Elmer try to pronounce that.

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