The human brain is the most complex object in the known universe. Its billions of neurons interconnect through trillions of synapses and constitute the densest information network in the natural world.

Among those trillions of connections are the secrets to trillions of dollars in global consumer spending. Unlock the secrets of the mind, and you possess the code to unlimited profits.

Increasingly, marketers are turning toward brain-imaging techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), in the quest for the Holy Grail "buy button." We call it neuromarketing.

The brain, however, is reluctant to reveal its code.

Lyall Watson is credited with saying, "If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn't."

Perhaps that is why John Wanamaker's famous adage about not knowing which half of advertising dollars are wasted remains largely true a century later.

The truth is that people do not know why they buy what they buy, so they cannot tell you. If you ask, they will tell you great stories about why they drive an Escalade, for example, but their reasons will scarcely correlate with the truth.

As with nature, consciousness abhors a vacuum. Stories will quickly rush to fill the void where none exist. Marketers need a way around this storytelling problem.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sam Bradley is an assistant professor at the College of Mass Communications, Texas Tech University (www.depts.ttu.edu/masscom), and runs a psychophysiology lab (www.commcognition.com). His research involves looking at low-level attentional and emotional responses to media.