The Wall Street Journal and other publications report that Google and ad giant WPP will announce today the $4.6 million grants it will award for academic research designed to “improve understanding and practices in online marketing, and to better understand the relationship between online and offline media.” Among the research efforts given funds are projects that will “analyze internet users’ surfing habits to determine their thinking styles, such as whether they are most influenced by verbal or visual messages or if they are more holistic or analytical, and how to tailor ads accordingly” and an “analysis into how online ads effect blood flow to different areas of the brain. This research would seek to show the role that emotions play in decision making.” Â Academics from MIT, Stanford, and Harvard will receive funds, among others. (And for those of us concerned about the role online advertising and data collection is playing in China–and impacts human rights and environmental sustainability–one of the new grants will fund “how Chinese web users respond to different online-ad formats, such as display and search ads”).
As we will tell the European Commission at the end of the month, at a workshop they have organized to discuss interactive advertising and consumer protection, the evolving role of neuromarketing with online advertising raises a number of troubling concerns–and should trigger a serious policy review. Â We have not yet seen a final list of the grantees.Â But Google should be funding independent research that will honestly explore the impact and ethics of online marketing.Â They should be ensuring that the ethical issues of online marketing–such as the concerns raised by their new behavioural profiling and targeting system–receive a honest scholarly review.
The growing controversy over the role pharmaceutical companies are playing with scholarly research on drugs, we think, has implications here.Â We believe all the academic institutions receiving these grants must vet them to ensure they truly address the real impact online ad techniques have on individuals and society.
Update:Â Google & WPP made the academic research announcement–eleven grants awarded.Â Here are some to ponder–and raise questions:
*Â â€œTargeting Ads to Match Individual Cognitive Styles: A Market Testâ€; Glen Urban, Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management;
*Â â€œHow do consumers determine what is relevant? A psychometric and neuroscientific study of online search and advertising effectivenessâ€; Antoine Bechara, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Department of Psychology/Brain & Creativity Institute, University of Southern California and Martin Reimann, Fellow, Department of Psychology/Brain & Creativity, University of Southern California;
*â€œUnpuzzling the Synergy of Display and Search Advertising:Insights from Data Mining of Chinese Internet Usersâ€; Hairong Li, Department of Advertising, Public Relations, and Retailing, Michigan State University and Shuguang Zhao, Media Survey Lab, Tsinghua University;
*â€Are Brand Attitudes Contagious? Consumer Response to Organic Search Trendsâ€; Donna L. Hoffman, Professor, A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California Riverside and Thomas P. Novak, A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California Riverside;
*â€œMarketing on the Map: Visual Search and Consumer Decision Makingâ€; Nicolas Lurie, Assistant Professor of Marketing, College of Management, Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Management and Sam Ransbotham, Assistant Professor of Information Systems, Carroll School of Management, Boston College.