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Marketing Preamble

Marketing as a means to advertise products can already be found on house walls in Pompeii. As a field, marketing is generally part of business economics, and in many universities, it is established as an independent degree program as well. In general, marketing can be defined as the division of business activity that has the function to present products and services to customers. This is done either in the form of advertisement to actualize a brand message or promotion to target specific audiences. This customer engagement is meant to meet customer expectations based on their personal needs, or to create new needs in the market as businesses present novel products and services that are not presupposed by customer expectations. To successfully engage customers, it is paramount for businesses to identify, analyze, and deliver on needs that are either expected by customers or not. Nevertheless, there is a thin line between meeting and artificially manufacturing customer needs. The latter raises concerns on the utility of marketing that goes beyond meeting needs and towards influencing customers to buy into unwanted needs.

Marketing is characterized through its interdisciplinarity by using insights, methods, and approaches from such different fields as psychology, media sciences, behavioral economics, sociology, etc. Hence, the openness of marketing toward new interdisciplinary connections such as neurotechnology is not surprising and finds its outlet in new fields such as “consumer neuroscience”, “neuroeconomics”, and “neuromarketing”. The use of neurotechnology in marketing or “neuromarketing” is mainly focused on noninvasive measurements of neural activity as a new form of market research. On the one hand, this could be taken as an intrusion into the (“mental”) privacy of the consumer. However, data of the consumer has always been collected, for example through behavioral experiments, questionnaires, or tracking consumers on the internet to understand their needs and wants. On the other hand, the use of neurotechnology seems to promise a certain kind of validity of the collected data, because it comes “directly” from the brain of the consumer. Nevertheless, the methodological and experimental approaches are still under development. Hence, the validity and significance of the data needs to be handled carefully. Furthermore, ethical questions need to be discussed when using neurotechnology in marketing research.

Data collection methods under the umbrella of neurotechnology are not limited to only cortical and muscular neural signals, but also include behavioral metrics and the sensing of multi-modal bio-signals. Traditional neuromarketing implementations have focused on the correlation of available data from the field to some neural basis or results in the literature that originated from medical grade experimental lab equipment. Such an approach allowed marketing and user study agencies to focus on more accessible data such as from questionnaires, mouse-tracking, eye-tracking, and other related measures. Improvements at the algorithmic level have also lent themselves to increase the precision of focus group based paradigms by trying to track sentiment using computer vision while observing subject behavior. Up and coming technological advancements both at the hardware and software level are making precision bio-sensing more accessible, which are now realized in the form of smart wearables. For example, smart watches support tracking via accelerometers, gyroscopes, oximetry, bioimpedance, magnetometers, heart rate monitors, skin temperature, gestures, and UV sensors, with the purpose of these sensors being to collect health and wellness insights about users that oftentimes are connected to underlying neuroscientific findings as validation. Virtual Reality headsets also come with integrated facial tracking and eye-tracking sensors that function as control mechanisms and health data collection. Furthermore, brain sensing technologies that had previously been limited to medical/experimental lab conditions such as EEG and fNIRS are seeing success with smaller, more affordable, and environmental noise robust form factors, which allow for more groups without a wet lab to have these capabilities.

The work on neural decoding has also seen more visibility and progress recently. For example, provocative headlines in popular media have stated how artificial intelligence can read people’s minds. The latest studies have leveraged Large Language Models to generate images a
participant has seen, predict words a person was actively thinking about, and even reconstruct music from people’s brain waves.

As these capabilities start developing closer to consumer markets and not just in controlled lab settings, it will be worth thinking about the ethical rail guards needed when trying to decode and interpret the informational content of people’s thoughts and their utility in marketing. The primary goal is to consider the ethical, legal, social, and cultural implications (ELSCI) of neurotechnologies when used for marketing applications and not the marketing of neurotechnologies for consumers.