I am founder and Chairman of Mindlab International® a UK leader in the neuroscience of consumerism and communications. Based in the University of Sussex’s science park, my company conducts research, worldwide, for a wide range of multi-national organisation, political parties, retailers, market research firms, PR and TV companies. This original research has provided me with unique insights into the rapidly changing demands and expectations of consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.
I started my professional life by studying medicine, before changing to psychology. I lectured in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Sussex before starting my own research consultancy. I have a First Class Honours science degree from the University of Westminster and a doctorate from the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Sussex. I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, the International Stress Management Association and the Institute of Directors and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society.
In addition to my scientific work, I have published more than twenty books – I write under the pen-name of David Lewis – which have been widely translated. These include: Thinking Better, The Secret Language Of Success, Impulse: Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It, and The Soul of the New Consumer which Bookpage described as: “…a lucid analysis of a wide range of sales related issues…for anyone in the business of sending those messages, it’s an enlightening and compelling guide.” My most recent book is The Brain Sell: When Science Met Selling.
If you would like to know a little more about my more than thirty years of involvement and research into the neuroscience and psychology of consumerism please read on…
I became the ‘father of neuromarketing’ entirely by accident.
In the early 1980’s, having just completed my doctorate in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Sussex, I was lecturing there in clinical psychology and psychopathology. At the same time I was conducting research into the clinical uses of biofeedback.
Biofeedback is a technique in which physiological changes, such as a rise or fall in heart rate or blood pressure, are ‘fed back’ to the individual in order to help them bring about some desired therapeutic effect. The video below shows an individual, guided by biofeedback, learning to relax by altering the speed and depth of their breathing.
I also constructed a version which enabled the person to control a model train using either their brain or body. The more relaxed he or she became the faster the train moved around the track. To see video of the ‘brain train’ in action click here.
I demonstrate my Brain Training
My interest in using brain biofeedback began around 1987 when I acquired a newly invented piece of equipment called a Mind Mirror. The world’s first easily portable electroencephalogram (EEG), the Mind Mirror had been designed to help train individuals to control their brain. By the standards of today’s EEGs, it was a primitive device. Only five electrodes were used (today from 16 to over 200 are employed) and the brain waves could only be stored on a cassette tape. In order to create a viable research tool, my first task was to modify the device so that data was digitized and recorded on a computer. The next challenge I faced was writing the software to analyse those data.
Using the Mind Mirror in an early research study
What I needed was a suitably attention-grabbing and emotion-arousing stimulus. I found the answer in TV commercials. These had the advantage of having been crafted to catch and hold people’s attention as well as to arouse a variety of emotions. I contacted several advertising agencies, who sent me over 100 commercials. My work attracted a certain amount of media interest, including coverage on BBC TV’s popular science program Tomorrow’s World. This was the world’s first ever television demonstration of what would, thirty years later, becoming the billion dollar neuromarketing industry.
There were also articles in the advertising and marketing press, as well as pieces in national newspapers. While some journalists expressed enthusiasm for the technique, others were fearful of what such work implied. One suggested that I risked creating an Orwellian nightmare!
Worlds First TV demonstration of Neuromarketing
A few months later I conducted the world’s first EEG study on retail premises. My volunteer shoppers, who walked around wearing sensors to record their brain activity, had to push the bulky equipment, powered by a motorcar battery, on a trolley in front of them! When news of this research became known one TV station was so intrigued that it asked me to use one of their presenters as a subject.
Although there was some commercial interest in my research, advertisers and market research firms were either disinterested or dismissive.
Demonstration of world’s first ambulatory EEG recordings in retail premises
Rosi Ware, from Millward Brown, one of the world’s leading market research companies, told Tomorrow’s World. “It isn’t adding anything to what we already do. You won’t be able to do anything with those results.”
During the 1997 elections I also conducted the world’s first EEG study of viewer responses to political messages.
First EEG recordings of viewers’ responses to party political broadcasts
There the matter rested. I had little interest in promoting the work commercially and continued my academic researches mainly in the field of stress and anxiety but also, increasingly, in studying the effects of these emotional states on brand preferences and retail purchases.
In 2001, with two highly experienced marketing specialists, Thom Nobel and Peter Laybourne, I helped found Neuroco . This was the UK’s, and quite possibly the world’s, first neuromarketing company with clients ranging from retailers and advertisers, to brand managers, fast-moving consumer goods companies, film and television production houses.
We conducted some of the world’s first ever studies in both US and European retail premises. To view studies conducted at Lakeside in the UK, TJMaxx in New York and the Continente supermarket in Porto, Portugal click below.
Shopping for shoes at Lakeside with Richard Hammond
A few years later Neuroco was taken over by Neilson-backed Neurofocus. Meanwhile, my own researches into ways of analysing the thoughts, emotions and actions of consumers continued through Mindlab International Ltd, the company I had set up to undertake the research for Neuroco.
While, as I said at the start, some journalists have sometimes referred to me as the ‘father of neuromarketing’ due to this pioneering work, this attribution is not strictly true.
In 1971, a decade or so before I began my research, American psychologist Herbert Krugman used EEG to investigate what was going on in a viewer’s brain while watching television. His subject was a 22-year-old secretary, onto the back of whose head he taped a single electrode. He then recorded and analyzed her brain activity while she either watched television or read a magazine. Krugman reported that within 30 seconds of beginning to watch television, the woman’s brain waves were no longer fast-moving beta waves, associated with paying attention, and instead were mostly slower alpha waves, indicating a state of inattention.
When she began to read the magazine, however, the beta waves once again predominated, showing that alert attentiveness had replaced relaxed daydreaming. In later studies, he also discovered that while she was watching television her right hemisphere, which processes information emotionally and non-critically, showed greater activity than her left hemisphere, whose role is to deal with information logically and analytically.
Following Krugman, other US researchers carried out similar research but it would be more than 30 years before there was any commercial interest in what many now regard as a game changer in the worlds of market research.
Today there are at least 250 companies around the world offering Neuromarketing Services to clients ranging from advertising agencies and market research companies to FMCG companies, film, TV and automotive industry and design houses. Mindlab International has undertaken work for political parties in many parts of the world and recently started working with major publishers on indentifying the most impactful book jackets.
We have also been developing a range of powerful tools that avoid any need for sensors attached to people’s heads when analysing their subconscious response and can be used over the internet. This enables large numbers of respondents - they can run into the hundreds or even thousands as compared to the 40 or so used in a typical neuromarketing study. Furthermore, they can be selected from an age range, sex, educational background or other demographic requested by the client.
Even in the just over a decade since Mindlab International was founded the scope of its capabilities and the sophistication of its technology, both hardware and software, have grown exponentially. It will be interesting and exciting to see what the next ten years will bring.
Shopping for Bargains at TJMaxx New York
Doing the family shopping in Porto, Portugal