Marketers, public relations, sales and advertising professionals, and those who study their collective manipulations of consumer heads and hands have long known that a strong, identifiable brand is a powerful tool that in its purest form stands apart from the individual products it informs and casts a positive glow over them.
However, even the strongest branding advocates might be surprised by the results of a new study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, which reveals that strong brands flip switches activating areas of the brain involved in positive emotional processing, self-identification, and rewards: I brand buy, therefore I am.
Furthermore, strong brands appear to create a kind of mental “groove,” and are processed with less effort than weak brands, which require higher levels of activation in areas of working memory and negative emotional response.
“This is the first functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) test examining the power of brands,” said Christine Born, M.D., radiologist at University Hospital, Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, who got up under the consumer hood, so to speak. “We found that strong brands activate certain areas of the brain independent of product categories.”
Dr. Born added, “Brain imaging technologies may complement methods normally used in the developing area of neuroeconomics,” the ultimate goal of which is to make every purchase a forgone conclusion. I added that last part.
The Born group used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study areas of the brain affected by visual stimuli associated with strong and weak brands in 20 adult men and women. Researchers showed the volunteers — all right-handed, highly educated, and with a mean age of 27 — a series of three-second visual stimuli containing the logos of strong (well-known) and weak (lesser-known) brands of car manufacturers and insurance companies. During the sequence, the fMRI acquired images of the brain, depicting areas that activated in response to the different stimuli.
The guinea pigs’, er volunteers’, brand perceptions were correlated via questionnaire before and after the fMRI imaging. As an additional control, an abstract colored image was also displayed during each sequence.
It would seem that those with the weakest or least developed critical thinking capabilities — such as children — are most susceptible to the brand balm – or is it “bomb”? But this study shows that we all come under the magical sway of the powerful brand.
Sounding rather defensive, Born said, “The vision of this research is to better understand the needs of people and to create markets which are more oriented towards satisfaction of those needs. Research aimed at finding ways to address individual needs may contribute to a higher quality of life.”
Well, it certainly will for those on the selling end of the equation.