Study of neuromarketing analysis

After having read a substantial amount of the current literature on the fascinating science of Neuromarketing, I find it hard to believe that it took so long for marketing and science to find together to create an academic field of its own right. The works of the human brain and psychology have always been a passion of mine; but my initial professional career took me deeply into the fields of marketing. In fact, I implemented marketing strategies for two of the most controversial industries today: the cigarette and the pharmaceutical industry.

Although in both cases, we used the most advanced instruments of modern marketing, I was always curious if there would not be a way to market a product more scientifically than we did at that time – and that was despite the fact that all companies I worked for were major global players in their respective field.

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So when I stumbled upon Neuromarketing in the scope of this Masters degree, I was immediately intrigued by it. Neuromarketing promises to give answers to some of the most important questions of marketing, namely – why do we buy things, and what does it do to our brain?

I would like to express my gratitude to Malaika Brengman who enabled to seize this unique opportunity to write this thesis. Furthermore, I would thank my mother Ayse Sayin, who kindly shared her extensive knowledge about scientific problems and supported me throughout the complete working process of this paper. Finally, I would like to thank my partner Max Obenaus, who deeply shared my interest in the subject, and whose relentless effort and stimulating discussions has enabled me to write this paper.

Brussels, May 2011



Neuromarketing, bridging marketing and neuroscience, is a rapidly growing area of research, which introduces a scientific layer to the academic field, and hence creates some high expectations on the one hand, and a lot of critique on the other.

The vast amount of data retrieved through neuroscientific analysis promises to provide a better understanding of consumer behaviour, and raises the hope that the marketing strategies of the future will be more efficient and better targeted to the consumer.

In fact, the controversy around the mythical “buy button” shows that the scope and limitations of the scientific field of neuromarketing are not yet properly defined. The horror scenario of complete corporate control of consumer behaviour often stands in the way of a proper analysis of the risks and potentials of neuromarketing; at the same time it seems that a fundamental distinction has to be made between an academic and a corporate approach to neuromarketing.

In both cases the willingness to advance the science of neuromarketing should be immense. For corporations, obviously, the prospect of exerting vast scientific control over consumer behaviour is most attractive. For the academic world, it will be a challenge on many different levels. First, it is about exploring the scientific limits of consumer analysis, taking into account the subconscious forces that are at play when a purchase is made.

Secondly, and more importantly, the development of neuromarketing raises fundamental moral questions. Freedom of choice, free market and ethics need to be addressed, leading to the formulation of neuroethics. Following this, a legal framework for neuromarketing needs to be defined, which decides whether or not individual consumer rights need protection via a newly defined private sphere, or if we even trust enough the dynamics of the free market to sufficiently self-regulate these moral and legal grey areas.

A literature review in this field will give an idea on the studies in this nascent science that is claiming worldwide recognition and possible areas for further research.


2.1. Neuromarketing

This interest in neurosciences has eventually caught the attention of both businesses and academia that are involved in a subset of economics, i.e. marketing. Being able to understand how the brain processes information and reacts to marketing stimuli, to eventually come up with “purchasing decisions” would provide a huge leap in marketing science as well as leading to huge profits through triggering the desired consumer responses. In other words, it would be the discovery of the well publicized “buy button” (Wells, 2003).

As a result, marketing has also started to benefit from neurosciences. The resulting multidisciplinary science is termed as neuromarketing or consumer neuroscience.

Neuromarketing is broadly defined as a “sub-area of neuroeconomics that

addresses marketing relevant problems with methods and insights from brain research” (Fugate, 2007; Lee et al., 2007).

Neurosciences could provide inputs to marketing in different areas such as providing a deeper insight of consumer behaviour and decision making processes, better understanding of advertising, a clearer make-up of branding, an analysis of the market and eventually politics which benefits from all of the above.

The first use of fMRI as a marketing tool was reported by Gerry Zaltman of Harvard towards the end of the 1990’s (Addison, 2005). However, “the term ‘Neuromarketing’ was only coined by Professor Ale Smidts in 2002, and it was not until 2004 that the first ever Neuromarketing conference was held at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston” (Dawis,L. 2005).

The tools and methods used for neuromarketing analysis are rapidly developing, enabling better visualization of the subconscious customer responses. Fugate indicates that “the use of neuromarketing, if proven through use, has the capability of fundamentally changing how we design, promote, price, and package our products” (Fugate, 2007)

Consequently, neuromarketing is fast becoming mainstream, widening its applications within marketing. In fact, the increasing popularity of “neuromarketing” could be traced from Google, where the search for the specific word “shows a phenomenal progression from just a few hits in 2002 to thousands in 2010” (Morin, 2011).

2.2. Neuroeconomics

Traditional economics considers human beings as rational and unemotional beings that have “stable, well-defined preferences” that can make “rational choices with those preferences” (Camerer & Thaler 1995, 209). However, the reality hardly matches this classic theory of economic modelling. The decision-making processes are highly influenced by numerous past experiences, emotions and subconscious processes, which alter significantly the expected behaviours. Kenning points out that “These anomalies were not proven to have been included into the earlier theories of traditional economics which was based on rational behaviour.” (Kenning & Plassmann 2005, 343; Schmidt 2008, 8-9.)

The developments in neurosciences in recent decades, enabling researchers to determine the physiological and neurological responses have led other disciplines to utilize the methodologies and findings in neurosciences to verify the assumptions in their own fields. Thus, the application of neurosciences to verify the assumptions of economics has led to neuroeconomics.

Braeutigam defines neuroeconomics as a “new and highly interdisciplinary field”,” drawing from theories and methodologies employed in both economics and neuroscience”, “aiming at understanding the neural systems supporting and affecting economically relevant behaviour” (Braeutigam, 2005). Consequently, neuroeconomics uses brain research methods to understand and explain economic phenomena, as well as facilitating and promoting the integration of neurological findings into economic sciences.

Sanfey points out that “Although both economists and neurologists attempt to understand and predict human behaviour, they have used quite different methods in the past. Whereas economic research has tried to explain behaviour through observational data and theoretical constructs such as utility or preferences, neurology contemplates the physiological elements and somatic variables that influence behaviour. Neuroeconomics, which evolved from the combination of both disciplines, proposes an interdisciplinary approach and specifically examines the neural correlates of decision-making” (Sanfey et al., 2006).

2.3 The Conscious vs. the Subconscious

The importance of neuromarketing lies in the dual nature of perception processes, i.e., conscious and subconscious.

We know why we take certain purchasing decisions but not the others. In fact the majority of our actions fall under the latter category. Hausel (2007) and Szymkowiak (2011) indicate two different types of brain activity which could lead to this.

The conscious mind can process 40 bits per second, whereas the subconscious mechanism is much faster, processing up to billions of bits per second. Furthermore it is always at work. As a result, everything that cannot be processed by the conscious falls into the realm of the unconscious, which functions as an autopilot that takes over when the conscious cannot process any more.

In fact, consciousness is closely connected to focusing attention. In that sense, what we perceive attentively – for example when we listen – forms the conscious perception, whereas the background noise of all types are recorded in the subconscious. A similar situation is valid for visual perception. Usually the peripheral vision constitutes the realm of the subconscious while the conscious records what we look at attentively.

2.4. Subliminal Messaging

Subliminal is derived from the Latin words sub (below) and limen (threshold), referring to the perception below the threshold of human consciousness. The presentation of audile or visual images at a speed or form that cannot be identified by the target person would be perceived by the individual, though not consciously.

These subconscious perceptions, whether it is audible or visual, make it possible to influence that individual’s decision-making processes, without that person being aware of this activity. An expected consequence would be the possibility to persuade that individual to purchase goods or services, which he/she would not be making otherwise.

Although the practice of “subliminal messaging” was identified at the end of nineteenth century, the widespread recognition was in 1957, when market researcher James Vicary, using the term “subliminal advertising” for the first time, set up his “Subliminal Projection Company” and made his well known “pop corn/coke advertisement” during a Kim Novak film shown in New Jersey. He claimed that by quickly flashing the words “Drink Coca Cola” and “Hungry? Eat popcorn” for 1/3000 of a second, at five-second intervals on the movie screen during every presentation of this film, he had influenced people to purchase more food and drinks, selling 57.8% more Coca Cola and 18.1% more popcorn.

Vance Packards book, “Hidden Persuaders”, published the following year included this experiment and had wide repercussions. Although Vicary admitted later on that he had lied about the experiment, there were widespread sentiments against the practice. “Life treated subliminal advertising as fact and discussed its potential not only in selling but also in gaining support for anti-litter campaigns and even promoting political candidates” while “The Saturday Review, addressed his readers: “Welcome to 1984.” (O’Barr,2005) The widespread belief that subliminal messaging could lead to brainwashing led to subsequent banning of subliminal advertising in various countries.

The publishing of the book “Subliminal Seduction” by Dr. Wilson B. Key in 1973, marked another outrage against subliminal advertisement, leading to limitation of broadcasting with subliminal techniques. (Lindstrom,2003)

The use of subliminal messaging had also been used in politics, the most famous being the TV Ad for George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign. “It showed words (and parts thereof) scaling from the foreground to the background on a television screen. When the word BUREAUCRATS flashed on the screen, one frame showed only the last part, RATSaˆ¦aˆ¦”((O’Barr,2005).

Music played in shops sometimes have embedded messages to “spend more” or “discourage theft”, leading to a decrease in thefts and increase in sales, which the consumer is unaware but is effective (Lindstrom, 2003)

Subliminal messages could also be utilizing the associations and judgments of the consumer, fulfilling the subconscious sensory expectations from a product or service. Lindstrom argues that “different aromas pumped into casinos, airplane cabins, hotel rooms, and just off the assembly line cars” could be considered subliminal messaging as “the leathery smell of a new car comes out of an aerosol can” (Lindstrom, 2003).

2.5. The Senses

Everybody perceives the surrounding world through 5 senses, that is: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching.

Perception involves the reception through our sensory organs and the processing by the brain. However the perception depends not only on the external stimuli, but also on the genetic set up and residues of the previous experiences of the individual, formed by learning and memory.

2.5.1. Seeing

The eyes are the visual information receptors. The impulse goes through the cornea and is projected on the retina, which is “composed of a layer of millions of photoreceptors” that are “specialized neurons transforming the light inputs into electrochemical signals, codified in the brain”. Out of the two types of photoreceptors, the “rods” sense motion, especially in dim light or dark, predominantly in the peripheral vision, while the “cones” work under intense light and are responsible for sharp details. The cones are most densely packed in the centre of the retina known as the “yellow spot”, producing the sharpest images. (Zurawicki, 2009)

The “saccadic movements” of the eye enables sensing parts of a scene with greater resolution, helping build up a mental map of the scene while another eye movement, the involuntary “micro saccades” refreshes this image. “The visual attention is focused at the upcoming target locations, shifting the activations in saccade and attention areas of the brain, some hundredth milliseconds before an eye movement,” (Rolfs, Jonikaitis, Deubel & Cavanagh, 2011).

The saccades and micro saccades are considered to be important indicators for studying “the observer’s specific point of interest” and “attention focus” (Zurawicki 2009, Laubrock et al.2007) recorded with the use of eye tracking camera like electronic devices. However there are also claims doubting the validity of the use of micro saccade movements in this field Horowitz et al, 2007)

Each eye “directs visual signals through a million of fibres in the optical nerve to the optic chiasm, where they are integrated”.” After passing from the optic chiasm, the optical tracts end in thalamus, which subsequently relays them to the upper layers of the cortex”. The information from the two eyes are still separate in the thalamus and “get integrated in the cortex where the binocular vision is created” (Zurawicki 2009). The cortex sends the re-processed signals back to the thalamus.

Zurawicki states that “Visual cortex is divided into 6 different areas each performing a distinct function and specializing respectively in various sub modalities of visual perception, that is: exploratory and general pattern recognition, stereoscopic vision, depth and distance, colour, complex movement, and determination of the absolute position of the object as opposed to the relative one. (Zurawicki 2009)

The frontal, parietal, temporal, occipital cortex, thalamic nuclei, the claustrum, the caudate, the lentiform nucleus and the culmen, declive and vernis in the cerebellum are activated during visual perception and visual mental imagery (Ganis

The brain uses previously stored data from the memory, to provide meaning to what is being transmitted. The brain also has the capacity to make up for missing images, referred to as “blind vision” (Zurawicki 2009).

2.5.2. Hearing

The sounds funnel into the ear, reaching the eardrum, which is a membrane which vibrates at different speeds, that is, the more acute the sound, the faster it vibrates. “Small bones of the middle ear (the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup) amplify the signal from the membrane and transmit it to the inner ear. The coiled part of the inner ear – the cochlea – is equipped with approximately 16 000 hair cells, which detect each sound frequency separately and in response to it move at a certain rhythm. This activates up to 30 000 of neurons of the auditory nerve pathways which carry the sound information via the thalamus to the temporal gyrus: the part of the cerebral cortex involved in receiving and perceiving sound”. “Our audiary system processes all the perceived signals in the same manner until they arrive at the primary auditory cortex in the temporal lobe”. Here when speech is differentiated from other sounds, “neuronal signal is directed to the left hemisphere where the language is processed”. (Zurawicki 2009).

Audiary neurons are specialized, some responding to high frequencies and others low. Furthermore there are some which marks the beginning and others the end of a sound.

Although some process of sound focalisation take place in the ears, sound recognition through specific harmonics of the sound is performed in the primary auditory cortex in the temporal lobe.

2.5.3. Smelling


2.5.4. Tasting


2.5.5. Touching


2.6. The Brain

The brain is the central processing centre for all the motor and sensory information coming from different parts of the body. The stimuli received that are processed and distributed from the brain leads to different thoughts, as well as muscular and behavioural patterns.

The processing of incoming information is carried out in different parts of the brain, that is to say there is a distinct functional differentiation within the brain. However, in spite of this functional differentiation, it is important to keep in mind that the brain is an extremely complex structure with strong inter-linkages among its billions of nerve cells (neurons) that take place within the brain, and that the brain functions as a whole.

In order to get a better insight into the functional neuroanatomy of the brain, it may be useful to analyse the parts of the brain the functions of which have been more or less identified.

The brain is covered with an outer layer called Cerebral Cortex. Neocortex, often referred to as “grey matter” takes place on the outer part of the cerebral cortex, while amygdala, cingulated cortex, hippocampus, and basal ganglia takes place in the grey pockets located within the white matter underneath.

The brain is subdivided into four lobes, and two hemispheres with the deep folds.

These four “lobes” have different functions: The frontal lobe, located under the forehead is where organising/planning, short term memory, judgement and controlling behaviour take place. Temporal lobe, which is under the ears and temples are related to understanding what we hear, speaking and memory he. visual memory is processed.


2.7. Neuroimaging

2.7.1. Psychophysiological Measurement Techniques

Facial expression, heart rate and skin conductance are the most relevant methods of autonomic measurement used in advertisement research.

Emotional reactions to advertisement are measured by facial electromyography, which registers facial muscle activity. In facial EMG, electrodes that register muscle contractions are placed on the corrugator and zygomatic muscles. “The corrugator muscle is located above the nose close to the eyebrow and contractions in this muscle are involved while frowning. The zygomatic muscle is situated around the cheeks and controls smiling (Poels and Dewitte,2006). The research of Hazlett and Hazlett has shown that “facial EMG is a more sensitive indicator of emotional reactions to TV commercials and that the facial EMG responses were closely related to emotion congruent events during the commercial”( Hazlett and Hazlett,1999). However, facial EMG has the drawback of being conducted in unnatural lab settings and making the subject self conscious.

“Skin conductance (SC) or electrodermal activity” “gives an indication of the electrical conductance of the skin related to the level of sweat in the eccrine sweat glands”, which “are involved in emotion invoked sweating” (Poels and Dewitte, 2006). Either very pleasurable or very repellent advertising stimuli evoke large SC responses. However there are considerable personal variations and “factors such as fatigue, medication etc can influence SC responses” (Hopkins and Fletcher, 1994).

The beating speed of our heart can provide clues as to attention and arousal related to commercials as well as “an indication of valance of emotional response (Poels and Dewitte, 2006). In general, positive stimuli lead to an increase in the heart rate, while the negative stimuli does the opposite. Poels and Dewitte advise “not to use heart rate as the single measurement method of emotional response” (Poels and Dewitte, 2006).

As the heartbeat is measured from the finger, it is quite convenient for the subject and is generally considered to be “an easy and cheap way to measure reactions evoked by advertising (Lang, 1994).

2.7.2. Brain imagery

How brain reacts to different types of stimuli is recorded through brain imagery. The major advantage of brain imagery is its objectivity, leaving out the possible response biases.

Motte defines Brain imaging “as a term that encompasses a set of techniques that allows for visualization of the regions of the brain that are activated in response to a certain stimulus”, and “Brain imaging systems” as “a set of techniques that allow visualizing the regions of the brain that are activated when (emotional) stimuli are presented”(Motte, 2009).

There are different methods for measuring and mapping brain activities related to neuromarketing. Lewis in his 2005 article refers to three brain-imaging techniques being used in Neuromarketing as “fMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging), QEEG (Quantitative electroencephalography) and MEG (magnetoencephalography)” and considers fMRI as “the one which has captured the greatest interest of the market researchers among these and has enjoyed the widest publicity” (Lewis, D.2005).

Morin in his recent article cites “electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)” as the “only three well established non-invasive methods for measuring and mapping brain activity” (Morin, 2011)

EEG, in spite of its being a rather old technology in neurology, is still considered to be a good way to measure brain activity, as it is significantly less costly. Motte points out that although “the price of high quality, research-purposed EEG systems can range from $10,000 to $100,000”, “cheaper EEG systems exist that can cost from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars” (Motte,2009)

To see how EEG works, it should be kept in mind that our neural circuitry consists of over 100 billion neurons and trillions of synaptic connections. When faced with a particular stimulus, these neurons fire, producing tiny electrical currents. The brainwaves, which are the differing patterns of frequencies of these electrical currents that correspond to different states of arousal, are recorded at very short time intervals, reaching up to 10,000 times per second in some of the new EEG bands, an important characteristic when attempting to evaluate the incoming high speed information coming through our senses.

However, EEG, which has become very popular among neuromarketing agencies in the last 5 years – as it is considered to be helpful in assessing the value of a piece of advertising at a relatively low cost – is considered by some cognitive scientists as being “weak, if not dubious” for the purpose of understanding and predicting the effects of advertising”. (Morin, 2011)

QEEG, is another brain imaging technology, which is used for neuromarketing purposes. David Lewis and Darren Bridger from Neuroco, a Neuromarketing research consultancy, have used QEEG “analysing the responses of viewers to television commercials and other forms of advertising, exploring the effects of looking at happy or sad facial expressions” (Lewis, D.2005) They claim that “although the spatial resolution of QEEG is poor, it is capable of producing a continuous recording of the ongoing neuronal activity”.

“The benefits of QEEG, is backed by more than 2,500 research papers published in peer reviewed journals” (Rothschild M et al.,1986, Rothschild M and Hyun YJ. 1990, Smith ME and Gevins A,2004)

MEG is yet another non-invasive neuro-physiological technique that measures the magnetic fields generated by neuronal activity of the brain. It measures the integrated magnetic signals emitted by activated neurons (Motte, 2011). The spatial resolution of MEG is usually superior to EEG as the magnetic signals it operates on are not as easily disturbed by the skull or brain tissues, as the electrical signals processed by EEG.

MEG “has been used for neuromarketing purposes, although to a far lesser extent”. (Lewis, D.2005)

A MEG system was used in the study of Braeutigam et al., where the team investigated real-life product choice in a retail store. (Braeutigam et al., 2001)

In one study MEG was used to measure decision making among consumers in a ‘virtual’ supermarket. The authors reported that the right parietal cortex became active only when faced with a preferred brand and concluded that this region was involved in making conscious decisions about shopping choices, and, perhaps, for “more important life choices too.” (Brautigam S et al.,2001)

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines are powerful magnets that can provide an accurate internal image of the human body. The MRI’s are used primarily in the functional imaging mode (fMRI), in order to monitor the miniscule blood flow changes that correspond to increased activity levels within the human brain. Visualization of the brain’s activity and structure is enabled by the iron content of the haemoglobin molecules within the red blood cells that carry oxygen to the brain. The increased use of oxygen of the nerve cells during excessive activity of these nerve cells, and the change in the magnetic properties of haemoglobin after it delivers oxygen to the nerve cells in the brain makes it possible to follow the signals that point out to activations in the brain. The major benefit of fMRI is that it can pinpoint these activations with millimetric precision.

“Many consider fMRI the best technological innovation ever developed to conduct clinical and experimental research on the brain” (Morin, 2011)

“The first use of fMRI as a marketing tool was reported by Gerry Zaltman of Harvard towards the end of the 1990’s” (Addison T.,2005).

“fMRI permits matching a specific product experience to the regions involved in pleasure and emotions in the brain.” (Motte,2009) The studies using fMRI can be very costly as the price of these machines ranges between 1 and 3 million dollars. While “a moving-image fMRI machine (acquisition cost: $2.5 million) is rented for $1,000 an hour at Emory University in Atlanta; “A single experiment, which includes at least 12 participants, can cost $50,000” (Wells, 2003).

When these three technologies are compared as to their applicability in neuromarketing, QEEG is mostly preferred as technology of choice in due to its being less expensive, simpler to use, and enables the recordings to be made in a wide range of natural environments. NERDEN BULDUM BUNU BEN??:))BULAMAZSAM GA°DER!!!

2.8. Memory and Learning

2.8.1. Memory

Magnetic resonance imaging

2.8.2. Learning


Martin Lindstrom, one of the most prominent supporters of neuromarketing, makes a convincing argument against neuromarketing’s potential to endow powerful corporations with something like a “buy button” to control our consumer behaviour. After all, it is nothing but a scientific tool that has to be put to right use, and it is the responsibility of whoever launches a neuroscientific study to take into account the appropriate neuroethical ground rules, , which have been discussed in the previous chapter. A°YA° DURUYO DA NERDE DEMA°AzA°Z TAM OLARAK??? -NEUROETHICS

3.1. Academic vs. Non-Academic Research

Neuroscientific research is a cost-intensive undertaking: a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanner alone is worth $4 million (Lindstrom, 2008, p. 8). This is where the controversy starts – whose interest is behind a given multi-million neuromarketing study? The answer is simple, and it divides the field into two basic categories: academic and non-academic neuromarketing. In case of the latter, it is safe to assume that whether we are talking about a large-scale corporation or a political party, a powerful interest is behind the funding of a project, looking for a concrete result that justifies the large sum of investment. Academic studies, on the other hand, can probably be trusted to be more neutral in this respect.

3.2. The “Buy Button”-Myth

Neuromarketing is by default a hybrid of corporate and academic culture and as such is doomed to experience much more “intercultural turmoil” than other sciences. Indeed it seems that in its young history, there has already been a vibrant exchange of critique among the fractions involved. The common media image of neuromarketing as the science in search of the “buy button” in our brain does not find much support on either side. German psychologist Frank Szymkowiak points out that neuromarketing, like other cognitive sciences, simply analyses the reactions of the human brain to cognitive stimuli. This, in his view, may lead to a more diversified and consumer-targeted use of marketing rather than it constitutes a threat to becoming to tool of omnipotence on behalf of the advertising agent (Szymkowiak, 2010, Journal of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, p. 83).

3.3. A Shallow Science?

Szymkowiaks, however, does have a critical view on neuromarketing, and it is far more detrimental than the “buy button”-allegation. For him, neuromarketing is shallow by nature and inaccurate in its analysis of scientific testing. When confronted with subconscious phenomena, neuromarketing indulges in some kind of ‘catalogisation’, counting bits of neurotransmission rather than looking for a qualified causal context. It recognises subconscious brain activity lacks the capacity to account for it. In this respect it is inferior to more substantial sciences such as depth psychology which, building upon the foundations laid by its founding father Sigmund Freud, is able to generate an explanation for subconscious behaviour by accounting for underlying motives of the human psyche (Szymkowiak, 2010, Journal of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, p. 84). This lack of depth is due to a simplistic definition of the subconscious that neuro-marketeers. Here, the totality of the human brain activity is, just like computers, is captures in bits, and only 40 out of 11mio bits are actually processed by the rational part of the brain. The rest falls under the category of “subconscious” without any further explanation. Depth psychology, on the other hand, is said to delve deeply into the spheres of the subconsci

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