Tag Archives: Forbes Consulting

Beware the Brain-Science Backlash

It’s official: After decades of watching neuroscience move
from being a strange stepsister of psychology to cutting-edge medical research,
the inevitable backlash is in full swing.
The year’s just half over, and already, such books as Brainwashed:
The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience; A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind:
What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves, and Brain Imaging:
What it Can (and Cannot) Tell Us About Consciousness have hit the shelves.
There are cheeky blogs debunking neuropsuedoscience, like NeuroBollocks. And in the
ultimate proof that skepticism is top of mind, The New Yorker says it’s so.
Check out Gary Marcus’ recent The
Problem With The Neuroscience Backlash.
The reason there is such an onslaught of accusations about
neuroscience overreaching itself is because so many people have, in fact,
overreached. As this approach to thinking about people and human behavior grew
increasingly popular, practitioners of neuroscience felt that natural urge to
‘run with the ball’ ‘ making increasingly expansive and provocative claims
about the powers of the science . Most famously, neuromarketers informed Frito
Lay that women looking at their snack packages felt ‘guilty’ ‘ based on
observed activity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulated
cortex. Frito Lay reacted to this information by making major changes in its
snack packaging. The problem was that academic neuroscientists will tell you
that there is no area of the brain that can be associated with guilt ‘ and that
the anterior cingulate cortex has been associated with error detection ‘ fairly
different from the concept of guilt. Using ‘reverse inference’ to translate
FMRI patterns into psychological concepts such as guilt or desire can only lead
to marketing conclusions that are neither certain nor credible. Brain scans
don’t yet offer the insights we need to formulate marketing strategies. We are
doubtless many years away ‘ if it will ever be possible ‘ from knowing which
neurons govern such psychological phenomena as guilt or generosity or ambition.
Meanwhile, other practitioners of business research
recognized that the neuroscience idea was ‘hot’, and soon it seemed that
everyone has some type of ‘neuroscience’ in their product mix. All of this
naturally winds up with trouble. As legitimate practitioners of FMRI research
stretched the science beyond its current limits, and as faux ‘neuroscientists’
with no basis for their claim crowd onto the stage, it is only natural that the
term would begin to be attached to shaky or even completely bogus science. This
activity is a natural target for a public backlash.
The customers of neuroscience have also played a role in
creating the backlash against neuroscience. Many new technologies in science
are initially greeted with over-strong levels of enthusiasm, as people hope
that ‘finally’ some of the frustrating inadequacies of current methods might be
overcome ‘ including the current heavy reliance on some form of self report to
measure emotional enthusiasm. The business community pounced on brain research
with delight as soon as it appeared: after all those years of parsing what
consumers told us in subjective focus group results, there was suddenly science.
This made for a very welcoming audience to those who might exaggerate the
powers of the new scientific technology, and a potentially gullible audience
for those attempting to masquerade as practitioners of the new. Overly
enthusiastic individuals who climbed uncritically onto the ‘next new thing’
were bound to get disappointed ‘ and hence the fuel for the backlash.
The backlash raises important issues, and hopefully sends
signals to practitioners and would-be customers alike about the importance of
reasonable conservatism in making claims for a new science, and about the need
for customers to exercise critical judgment in evaluating any new scientific
technology as a possible solution to research challenges. Going forward it is
critical that researchers eliminate any suggestion of smoke-and-mirrors from
our claims, and resist the urge to hyperbolize in the face of public
The brain is a wondrous organ, and the study of
neurophysiology and neuropsychology represents a huge forefront in psychological
science today. But right now, we don’t have a perfect map of what happens in
the human brain. We barely have a map at all. President Barack Obama’s $100
million funding for the Brain Initiative earlier this year is great news for
all of us who are interested in the brain. The more we know, the more
inferences we will be able to make about human emotion, thought and behavior.
At this point, we need to move carefully so as to benefit
from the promise of this new science without creating overpromise. For example,
Sands Research uses EEG to measure increased attention and arousal. They found
that ads that both build and sustain attention and arousal are more effective
than those that fail to maintain this activity. In one famous study, this
technique was used to evaluate a series of Super Bowl ads finding one ad in
particular that was associated with stronger EEG responses than any previously
had ever tested. This ad subsequently generated over 6.8 billion worldwide
impressions, 50 million views online, massively increased traffic to the brand
website, and directly contributed to North American sales. Using simple and
straightforward neuroscience measures, and drawing conservative claims, Sands
effectively used neuroscience to help the client.
Only with this kind of careful and conservative application
of neuroscience in market research will we be able to ensure that marketers do
not heave the baby out with the bathwater, as they react to disappointing
results from claims that were wildly premature.
I believe the focus should be primarily on developing
measures and methods that leverage the basic empirical findings of neuroscience
(such as the neuropsychology of image processing) to craft emotional research
tools that get beyond the problems of simple self-report. Attempting to stretch
our understanding of functional neuroanatomy beyond the bounds of current
scientific consensus will only lead to accusations of chicanery from the core
of the scientific community.  Specific
emotional phenomena that marketers seek to create in their audiences emerge
from interactions among a massive web of neurons, with vast numbers of
potential connections that are currently well outside our functional
neuroanatomical understanding. (The latest count, in case you were wondering, is
that the typical adult brain contains 86 billion neurons, and then about the
same number of glial cells helping connect these neurons.) If we are ever able
to point to the neurology of feeling the drive for achievement, or of
experiencing the urge to nurture one’s family, that will be a very long way
So as with all science, we must temper enthusiasm with
caution, we must push the envelope of our methods without tearing it wide open.
Neuroscience will surely point the way to greater self-knowledge for the human
race, and greater opportunities for the whole of human culture ‘ including
business and marketing. I close with somewhat famous watchwords that are
appropriate for those who would practice (or purchase) neuroscience: ‘If your
mind is too open, your brain may fall out.’

About the Author:
David Forbes holds a Ph.D. in clinical and cognitive psychology from Clark
University, and was a member of the faculties of Harvard Medical School
Department of Psychiatry and the Harvard Laboratory of Human Development before
beginning his career as a business consultant. He founded Forbes Consulting
over 20 years ago as a strategic market research consultancy dedicated to
creating business advantage through psychological consumer insights. He has
since built Forbes into a major resource for scores of major corporations in
the CPG, Financial Services, and Pharmaceuticals industries, domestically and
internationally. David is the creator of the MindSight?? emotional
assessment technologies, a suite of applied neuropsychological methods for understanding
consumer emotion and motivation, without the distortions of conscious editing
and self-presentation.  

Optimizing Communications with a Message Simulator

Today’s blog post comes from Dr. David Forbes, Ph.D., of Forbes Consulting, an exhibitor at The Market Research Event 2012.

Developing optimal communications is a challenging topic that we at Forbes Consulting pursue relentlessly. Think for a moment ‘ what if you could predict the market impact of communicating specific brand benefits or positioning elements and choose between them for optimal market impact? The Forbes Message Impact Simulator allows you to do just that. It allows you to experiment with levels of prominence of a single benefit, or with various combinations of benefits ‘ and observe the effect on your brand’s appeal and resulting estimated brand volume.

The simulator below starts with the base scenario ‘ current performance on all product attributes as well as current reach (a measure of the breadth of your brand’s connection with a population of interest), frequency (a measure of the depth of your brand’s connection with a population) and volume. By changing the strength of your brand’s functional and/or emotional equities in the simulator, you can immediately see the impact. The FCG Message Impact Simulator lets a user comprehensively evaluate the impact of alternative communication platforms, and choose the one with the strongest potential.

click to enlarge

For more information on Forbes Consulting please visit http://www.forbesconsulting.com/

The Emotional Mind

Today’s blog post comes from Dr. David Forbes, Ph.D., of Forbes Consulting, an exhibitor at The Market Research Event 2012.

Why do consumers ‘really’ think and act as they do?

We have long known that the deep seated emotional centers of the human mind generate the most powerful motivational forces driving consumer behavior. Traditional market research, however, has historically only accessed the conscious intellectual layers of the consumer mind. The desire to learn about the emotions that ‘really’ control behavior are largely unfulfilled.

Two barriers confront the market researchers in this quest. First, consumers are often unaware consciously of these deep-seated emotional forces.

As St. Augustine wrote in the thirteenth century, ‘I cannot grasp all that I am.’ His insight remains true of consumers today. Consumers today are no more able to grasp the motivations that arise from emotional centers of the brain that work below the level of consciousness than St. Augustine was; in the language of pop psychology, consumers are ‘out of touch’ with their feelings on the issues important to marketers.

Second, consumers are often unwilling to share their emotions with market research professionals, even when they are able to consciously access and articulate their emotions. Rare is the respondent who is willing to share reasons for behavior that might make them seem frivolous or irrational.

So where does this leave market research in its quest for ‘real reasons’ behind consumers’ behavior?

The news actually is good. The conscious mind is far from irrelevant ‘ it remains an important driver of attitudes and behavior, and traditional market research continues to excel at researching the conscious mind. For the first time, neuropsychologists have documented the activity in those areas of the brain responsible for our emotions. Employing techniques from perceptual and cognitive science, clinical market researchers have begun to leverage the insights from neuropsychology to devise methods for ‘talking’ to these emotional centers of the brain.

Our proprietary Forbes MindSight?? technique is a good example of how the latest insights about the brain can help market researchers acquire the once elusive emotional reasons for behavior ‘ to get new data about ‘real’ reasons that they have never gotten before. Consumers may remain unaware of their emotions or unable to share their emotions with us, but technologies such as MindSight?? are overcoming these barriers.

Why do people really think and act the way they do? We are revealing motivations that they themselves may not know. Results from MindSight?? research suggest that surprises are in store ‘ for marketers and market researchers, and even for consumers themselves!

For more information on Forbes Consulting please visit http://www.forbesconsulting.com/

Dynamics of Permissability in Food and Beverage

Today’s blog post comes from Dr. David Forbes, Ph.D., of Forbes Consulting, an exhibitor at The Market Research Event 2012.

 Consumers everywhere are exposed to a constant preoccupation with health and nutrition. Packaged, processed food and beverage products are often criticized because they represent a departure from ‘simple, natural whole foods’ that are the archetype of healthy eating. At the same time, consumers are attracted to the convenience benefits, as well as the tastes and textures of today’s food and beverage products.

To resolve the conflicts between an aspiration to eat healthy while taking advantage of the vast range of highly desirable packaged food and beverage products, consumers create what may be called ‘permission structures.’ Permission structures are lines of reasoning about products, and about people, that reduce the potential for values conflict between packaged food consumption and a desire for healthy eating lifestyles.

Our research has led us to identify four categories of permission structures, each of which operates in a range of situations to support consumers’ decisions to use packaged foods and beverages:

  • Nutrition-Based Permission: tied to the ingredients of the product itself
  • Situational Permission: linked to consumer lifestyle constraints or requirements
  • Emotional Permission: tied to psychological benefits of a product
  • ‘Not Me’ Permission: involving denial of responsibility for the consumption decision

These permission structures may operate separately or in combination whenever a consumer chooses to consume a packaged food or beverage that could pose a values conflict for the consumer ‘ including situations where moms and dads make purchases, mindful of their responsibilities to be ‘good parents.’

Nutrition-based permission structure is created when the consumer focuses on the individual highly symbolic ingredient, and shapes an attitude toward a product based on this ingredient. In psychological terms the consumer ‘takes the part for the whole,’ and reacts to the product overall on the basis of the ingredient.

  • ‘Good’ ingredients often attain positive status because they are linked to the ‘simple, natural, whole’ food archetype of nutrition such as:
  • ‘It’s OK because it has low/no _______ [salt, high fructose corn syrup, calories].’
  • ‘It’s OK because it has/is made from _______ [organic fruit, whole grains].’

Situational permission structures are the way consumers tell themselves ‘I’m doing the best I can.’ In this case, meeting the basic need of sustenance ‘ vs. going hungry or staying thirsty ‘ takes priority over the quality of the sustenance.
Two types are common:

  • Rush Permission: ‘I won’t have time to eat otherwise.’
  • Conflict-Avoidance Permission: ‘My child/teen/husband will at least eat something.’

Emotional permission structures are created whenever the act of eating or drinking moves outside of the functional goal of sustenance. When the emotional benefits of sensory pleasure take precedence over the act of eating or drinking, the rules of nutrition are temporarily suspended.
These are often seen in:

  • Reward Permission: ‘You’ve done _______, so you can have a _______.’
  • Indulgence Permission: ‘Oh what the heck’ live a little.’

‘Not me’ permission is created when the circumstances of the purchase or consumption allow the adult decision-maker to deny responsibility for the consumption decision ‘ creating a situation where the values system is not in operation. Two types are noted:

  • Not For Me: ‘I wouldn’t buy these except that my children love them.’
  • Radar Eating: Perhaps the most psychologically intriguing permission structure is typically created when a snack is in bite-sized form. This snack is often accessed in a container, which has more than one portion. The container is opened and the consumer eats pieces from the container while engaged in another activity (e.g., watching television). The consumer proceeds to eat most or all of the container and is then ‘surprised’ to find that he/she has done so. In order to be subject to ‘radar eating’ permission, a snack typically requires eating characteristics that make consumption truly automatic:
    • Crunch (signals time for another piece when sound disappears)
    • Good mouth clearance of flavor (prevents satiation)
    • ‘I can’t believe I ate the whole bag!’

Understanding the psychological permission structures can help marketers appreciate the decisions consumers make to consume food and beverage products. This improved understanding can prove invaluable to marketers who seek to sell their products based upon a deeper understanding of how the consumer makes choices.

For more information on Forbes Consulting please visit http://www.forbesconsulting.com/

Validity in Assessing Ad Communication & Impact Under The Radar

Today’s blog post comes from Dr. David Forbes, Ph.D. & Judith Retensky Forbes Consulting, an exhibitor at The Market Research Event 2012.

Typically, good advertising has to come in ‘under the radar’ ‘ that is, be persuasive in ways that are subtle ‘ appealing to emotions and deep-rooted psychological motivations. One type of research that attempts to measure these reactions is the communication check.

Communication check research typically takes place when advertisers have reached a fairly specific vision about an upcoming ad campaign. The ‘check’ is used to gain a preliminary look at how the ad will ‘work’ ‘ what messages it will convey and how those messages will be received.

However, respondents are often unable to give accurate reports about their reactions to advertising since the important communications usually take place below the conscious intellectual level, and the kinds of impact good advertising can create are precisely those that respondents don’t want to acknowledge. Given these constraints, how should researchers proceed? Following the 6 steps in the communication check process can help to accurately measure reactions and optimize the campaign.

Step 1: Use Developed Stimuli

Stimuli for advertising communication research should be as fully developed as possible. Although showing the ad at any stage (sketch, storyboard, etc.) works, well-developed executions will deliver the underlying strategy in a way that can come in ‘under the radar,’ just like a real ad.

The more stimuli look and feel like finished advertising, the greater validity in the findings.

Step 2: Design a Method for Deeper Thoughts

In-depth interviews (IDIs) have been the traditional approach since they allow researchers to explore the full sequence of one’s individual thoughts and feelings, without distraction or ‘contamination’ from others. Recently, however, Forbes has employed a rapid exposure image-driven exercise (MindSight??) in a focus group setting to circumvent rational thought and get to deeper motivational content ‘ the ‘paydirt’ of successful advertising communication.

Step 3: Expose Stimuli Just Once

The consumer who is exposed to an ad once will process it in a way that reflects the impact of all elements of the advertising ‘ imagery, tonality, and text that mimics what would exist in a real-world viewing. In contrast, repeat exposure creates a different balance of impact between these elements and changes the path of mental processing.

Step 4: Listen First

It is essential to learn precisely what the mental state of the respondent is after exposure to the advertising. Specific questions from the researcher too soon can be distracting ‘ taking the respondent’s mind off the track it was on after viewing the ad. The best approach is to simply let the respondent start talking. The respondent may talk about the advertising message right away, about a salient image, or something else entirely’but whatever the content, this is the first impact the stimulus had.

Step 5: Probe on Perception, Cognition and Emotion

Once an interview moves from unaided to aided probing, it is important to help the respondent accurately reconstruct spontaneous lines of thought. Probes of unaided material should be constructed to ‘fill out’ the three areas where psychology tells us that valid content exists. These areas are:

‘ Perception ‘ what was seen or heard
‘ Cognition ‘ ideas triggered by the perception
‘ Emotion ‘ feeling states triggered by the cognition

Step 6: Round Out the Discussion

 It is almost always necessary to conclude an advertising communication check with direct, aided probes in areas where no spontaneous feedback occurred. The recommended approach is to follow the natural processing sequence (perception, cognition, and then emotion) to reconstruct real reactions.


Although these steps maximize the validity of learnings in a communication check, the real world always comes into play where schedules and budgets act as constraints. Despite this, preserving the essence of the steps (summarized below) is critical to understanding the full impact of an ad campaign.
‘ Minimize respondent ‘imagination’ work
‘ Gather unaided responses wherever possible
‘ Make deeper levels of reaction the primary focus

For more information on Forbes Consulting please visit http://www.forbesconsulting.com/

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words’

Today’s blog post comes from Forbes Consulting, an exhibitor at The Market Research Event.  You can find them at Booth 214.  Would you like to join them? As a reader of this blog, register to attend TMRE this month and mention code TMRE12BLOG to save 15% off the standard rate!

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words’

‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’ meaning a picture tells a story just as well as a large amount of text or words spoken.

The phrase emerged in the US during the early part of the 20th century and highly attributed to Frederick R Barnard. He published a piece in Printer’s Ink in December 1921 commending the effectiveness of graphics in advertising with the title, ‘One look is worth a thousand words.’ Barnard said the phrase’s source to be oriental by adding, ‘so said a famous Japanese philosopher, and he was right.’

In March of 1927, Printer’s Ink, printed another form of the phrase, this time suggesting a Chinese origin ‘ ‘Chinese proverb. One picture is worth ten thousand words.’ With the change from ‘one thousand’ to ‘ten thousand’ and from Japan to China as the source, something just didn’t seem right. The attribution in both was invented; Barnard simply believed an Asian origin would give it more credibility. Other sources attributed his proverb to Confucius.

The phrase, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’ has re-emerged thanks to, Dr. David Forbes, President of Forbes Consulting Group, LLC and the creator of MindSight??. Dr. Forbes was named a 2012 Advertising Research Foundation Great Minds Award Finalist in the category of innovation for his work on MindSight?? technology.

Researchers have long understood that consumers’ emotions are an important focus for business learning. But traditional research techniques ‘ even traditional projective techniques ‘ can’t really help learn about emotions ‘ because they all require respondents to answer questions by talking ‘ and the emotional brain can’t talk.

Forbes Consulting’s MindSight?? changes all that. MindSight?? is a new way to gather data directly from the emotional brain by ‘talking in pictures.’ To let consumers talk in pictures, MindSight?? uses a validated library of images whose emotional meanings have been established through extensive consumer research. Then MindSight?? presents these images in a proprietary rapid-exposure / rapid-response technique that forces responses from the ‘emotional gut’ without time for ‘editing’ by the rational brain.

In its 26-year history, Forbes Consulting Group has become a valued resource for Fortune 500 companies. For more information, including the opportunity to receive a demo of MindSight??, please contact sales@forbesconsulting.com.

Frito Lay Asks Consumers to Chip In Ideas

We’re sorry for the delay in blog posts this week at the TMRE blog and would like to wish any of our readers well who were in the path of Hurricane Sandy.

Today’s blog post comes from Forbes Consulting, an exhibitor at The Market Research Event.  You can find them at Booth 214.  Would you like to join them? As a reader of this blog, register to attend TMRE this month and mention code TMRE12BLOG to save 15% off the standard rate!

Frito Lay Asks Consumers to Chip In Ideas

Frito Lay launched a promotion recently to discover a new flavor for its potato chips. The ‘Do Us a Flavor’ contest challenges consumers to submit flavor suggestions via a Facebook page or cellphone. Suggestions consist of a name for the flavor, possible ingredients and a brief description.

According to a press release from Frito Lay, 20 random names drawn per day win $50 and a bag of chips, however, there may be a $1 million winner selected by ‘a judging panel made up of chefs, foodies and flavor experts,’ that includes known flavor expert Eva Longoria. Or maybe she’s a foodie. Either way, she’s tied up in all this.

Versions of the ‘Do Us a Flavor’ contest held in the UK, India and Australia, included suggestions such as Mastana Mango, Caesar Salad, Late Night Kebob and Cajun Squirrel. This raises the question of whether a contest like this simply provides fun or genuine insight into what consumers want.
It’s true that consumers have contributed to product success. In 1987, Susan Aprill was a student in her junior year at the University of New Hampshire. Working in the dining hall during the summer she noticed two young girls adding anything they found to a dish of vanilla ice cream, including banana slices, nuts and hunks of chocolate. She passed the idea along to Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s along with the funny name she’d made up: Chunky Monkey. Twenty-five years later it’s still a popular flavor.

Aprill was given a card that lets her score free ice cream ‘ any flavor ‘ whenever she wants it. There were also lawsuits involving the name ‘ which two people uninvolved with Aprill claimed they made up ‘ as well as a lawsuit involving the rights to the cartoon monkey used on the packaging.
So that’s it ‘ gone are the innocent days when an ice cream company run by a couple of hippies in Burlington, Vermont can take suggestions from fans and pay them off with free ice cream. ‘Flavor’-doers will sign legal releases surrendering all rights in perpetuity’just in case any of their ideas are genuinely good. Keep in mind that the contest winner may not be a flavor idea that Lay’s chooses to greenlight. After all, Clay Aiken didn’t actually win ‘American Idol.’

In that spirit, feel free to use any of our ideas for your ‘Do Us a Flavor’ entry. We won’t make you sign a release:

  • ‘ Bama-Lama Brisket
  • ‘ Snackeroni and Cheese
  • ‘ Straight Bourbon
  • ‘ Who Beefed?
  • ‘ Not-So-Routine Poutine
  • ‘ If You Knew Sushi