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Today, tapping into the subconscious is much more sophisticated than was in the late 1970s, when some advertisers used subliminal messages to plant subconscious thoughts in television commercials.
Called neuromarketing, it could help newspaper publishers and their advertisers – at least those willing to plunk down an average of $30,000 per study – to see just what goes on in readers’ heads when they click on the company website and scroll through articles.
“We see what attracts readers’ attention and what keeps them engaged,” said Ron Wright, president and CEO of Sands Research, Inc. in El Paso, Texas, one of a handful of neuromarketing companies that have popped up in the past few years. Wright and partner Steve Sands have decades of neuroscience experience; the two formed Sands Research in 2008 as the field began growing.
When New Scientist magazine in London used neuromarketing on its cover last August, newsstand sales shot up 12 percent over the previous year, said Graham Lawton, deputy editor.
“We regarded that as a success, because we’re in the business of selling magazines,” said Lawton, who set up the study with Berkeley, Calif.-based Neurofocus. “The cover story is directly related to the sales. (It has) design, artwork, colors … things that matter emotionally.”
Those in the neuromarketing field admit they get added publicity because what they are doing is so remarkable to many people, but argue it’s simply a way of finding out what people want.

“Neuromarketing isn’t the Holy Grail,” Wright said. “It’s an additional component in market research.” He added that there is “no ability to eliminate people’s free will,” and because that is the perception among the media and others, Sands and other neuromarketing companies regularly work with clients in confidence.

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