Robin Wight’s speech Part II

One of the most dangerous, and most prevalent, occupational diseases of marketing is brand narcissism: the attitude that consumers exist to serve the interests of the brand, rather than the brand flourishing by serving the interests of the consumer.

Robin Wight’s ‘Battle of Big Thinking’ speech is a classic example of brand narcissism. In it, we discover a new ‘saviour’ of advertising – mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are neurons which fire ‘in sympathy’ when we see other people affected by an action. (So for example, if we see someone being slapped in the face, the same sets of neurons fire in our brain as the neurons firing in the brain of the person being slapped.)

According to Robin Wight, “mirror neuron activity in the brain could be the magic bullet we’ve been looking for, indicating evidence of how we could measure the creation of branded empathy.”

So now, to pursue the interests of the brand, we are to treat the consumer’s brain like a beagle or a rat in some animal testing laboratory, to check and measure that the ‘right’ neurons are firing – not to further the human being’s purposes but the advertiser’s purposes.

If Robin is to have his way, the goal of neuroscience is not to understand the miracle and richness of the mechanisms of human empathy to further the potential of human empathy. No. Perish the thought! It is to be used to offer up a new high watermark of brand narcissism – the quest to turn human empathy into “Branded Empathy”; the quest to turn the consumer’s brain, under the radar of consciousness, into another object of corporate ownership and control.


Oh Lord, give us strength! How sick a concept is that? Do you want your empathy to be branded?  Is this is what the great project of marketing – of understanding and meeting peoples’ needs – has come to?


Alan Mitchell              Newsletter


  • Sue Turner

    Alan, you know as well as I (and most other people) know that every now and then ‘something’ comes along or is ‘adopted’ or ‘adapted’ by certain ‘purveyors’ and plugged as the next big thing. This happens because, generally speaking, folks say, do and sell the same thing more or less. So being seemingly at the vanguard of this stuff gives ‘X’ something different to differentiate them, and will no doubt be a big-shiny attractive thing for some gullible marketers. It will appeal to those whose products are process-led for obvious reasons. So. Let them get on with it. I’m not such a luddite that I can’t see applications for this thing. But I don’t want to work in a profession where the magic, what-if’s and surprises are neuro-ironed out.

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