Navigating the Ethical Maze of Neuroscience

18 February 2021

The battle of data usage between adland and governing bodies continues to rage on. With the rise of social listening technologies, interactive digital advertising and targeted ads, our relationship with social platforms and brands is a delicate one. At what point do brands cross the ethical boundaries between mass customisation and incredible brand experience, into breaching personal privacy and GDPR compliance?  


The conversation around data collection and personal privacy can be a troubling one. Especially when a novel technology emerges that gives market researchers a brand new way of understanding their clients' consumers. It is inevitable that there will be questions around the ethical implementation of this technique. Consumer neuroscience is one such area. Emerging over the last 10 years, there have been persistent murmurs concerning whether researchers will be able to ‘read your mind’ and influence us in ways beyond what we could ever imagine.


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In reality, having your mind ‘read’ by a research team is far from how neuromarketing actually works. There is no denying that the insights harvested using these techniques can be used to influence your decisions. However, this is no different from any traditional marketing method helping influence brand success. 


The point of contention in any of these issues is driven by a lack of understanding, and therefore trust in the tools and methods used. The world of neuroscience and insights has strict standards with internationally recognised codes of conduct such as from ESOMAR and the MRS governing how these businesses interact and deal with consumers data.


As the tools develop in sophistication, the rules on data usage and privacy protection rights remain. 


At Saddington Baynes, we’ve been reflecting on how to ensure we are as transparent, and therefore ethical, as possible. Our Engagement Insights® SBBlog series strives to give you the details of how we carry out our implicit neuroscience research. We hope to show complete transparency with our methodology to demonstrate that what we at Saddington Baynes are doing is simply applying a new technology which is allowing us to understand your perception of imagery at a deeper level.


Our research focuses on testing implicit associations, effectively reviewing how we store and group memories in the mind. We create the tests with the commercial aim of answering a specific business objective - to understand the impact and perception of our imagery - through testing iterative changes in our creative, or understanding brand consistency by comparing key messaging with campaign imagery.


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Using non-invasive, online techniques, we recruit respondents from established and regulated panel providers who follow the ethical guidelines for this type of work. Every respondent has willingly joined the panel and understands that they will be taking part in a marketing exercise. The information we obtain on them is not personally identifiable, with only basic demographic information collected. We will never use the insights we uncover for nefarious purposes.

While testing the subliminal and non-conscious feelings of a person may seem a little like black magic, the ethical implication of implicit testing is actually no different from traditional research methods. The only factor that potentially leads to unbalancing the transparency of these testing methods is a lack of understanding.

After all, ‘Magic's just science that we don't understand yet.'


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