'Neuromarketers' Inside Your Head

Brainscan Advertising

If you think today's ads are made to manipulate, wait until you see what the future has in store.

As CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, a new breed of brain researchers is showing advertisers a way into people's minds, their deepest desires. At the California Institute Of Technology, they're using MRIs to peer into consumers' brains to see how they respond to everything from sunglasses to celebrities. It's called neuromarketing.

"There's a lot more going on that we're not aware of," says Steve Quartz, director of Caltech's Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory.

Oftentimes, Quartz says, there's a difference between what people say they like and what their brains say they like.

Researcher Anette Asp found that out. With her hip haircut and style, she thought for sure her brain would light up with delight at the cool stuff. Instead, her brain had a strong negative reaction to uncool things.

So she's cool so she won't be uncool. She says her mind was being read.

At least that's what advertisers are banking on. Today figuring out what consumers want is hit or miss. Tapping their unconscious, the promise of neuromarketing, is advertising's holy grail.

"There's no data to show that this actually works," says Dr. Daniel Reich.

Some critics call it Orwellian. Others, like Reich, say it's more fantasy than fact.

"We can tell generally what parts of the brain are active when you're doing different things, but no, I can't tell you what you're thinking," says Reich.

Still, brain imaging does reveal deep emotions when we make choices like voting. At UCLA they're studying voters' responses to President Bush, Senator Kerry and political ads.

The results: Republicans and Democrats are different. Democrats more agitated by the violent images.

"You can see that in the brain," says Marco Iacaboni, associate professor at the Department of Psychiatric & Behavioral Sciences at UCLA.

He understands how people might be worried about the technology.

"I guess the main point is they feel they could be manipulated," says Iacaboni. "There is nothing wrong first of all in trying to figure out if this stuff works or not."

"It's providing insight into our unconscious mind and that is new," says Quartz.

Neuromarketed goods could be on sale next year. In this brave new world an old adage applies: buyer beware.