See Inside June 2005

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Companies spend billions on marketing campaigns, but neuroscientists could someday determine which ads best capture consumers' attention

Have you ever been surprised at yourself after reviewing what you brought home from a shopping spree? Perhaps you bought a certain brand of chocolate only because a television ad for it showed warm tropical beaches and palm trees. Or you purchased an overpriced pastry at a bakery because it somehow reminded you of a treat from your childhood. Maybe you sprang for an electronic gadget you knew you didn't need just because your colleagues already have it.

Emotions, memories, herd instincts and other intangibles all influence our buying decisions. And none of these factors involves the classic cost-benefit analysis we generally pride ourselves on: that we won't buy something unless what we get seems worth what we must pay. What is going on inside our heads when we make such decisions? Marketers would certainly like to know. With modern neurotechnology, they are beginning to find out.

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