Marketers know there are potent words in advertising, like “Free” and “New.” Neuroscientists have now determined that the appeal of “new” is hard-wired into our brains. Novelty activates our brain’s reward center, which may have been an evolutionary advantage to our ancestors as they encountered new food sources or other elements of survival. Today, we are no longer hunters and gatherers, but the novelty-seeking circuitry is still active and makes us find new products (and even repackaged old products) attractive.
“I might have my own favourite choice of chocolate bar, but if I see a different bar repackaged, advertising its ‘new, improved flavour’, my search for novel experiences may encourage me to move away from my usual choice,” says Dr Bianca Wittmann at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London. [From the Telegraph – ‘Sense of adventure’ makes us marketing targets by Roger Highfield.]
Wittman and her fellow researchers had subjects choose cards associated with small rewards while scanning their brains using fMRI. Over time, the subjects were shown cards with which they had become familiar as well as new ones. The researchers found that making novel choices lit up the brain’s ventral striatum, an evolutionarily primitive part of the brain and an area associated with rewarding behavior. Wittman speculates that dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is part of the brain’s reward process, is released when a novel choice is made.
The neuromarketing message, then, seems simple – making a product “new” in some way may give it a boost when compared with competing products. At the same time, marketers should be mindful of long-term brand attachments. (Remember New Coke?) For example, changing a brand’s logo might provide a short-term boost, but might also weaken brand familiarity and attachment. As I described in Brain Branding: The Power of Strong Brands, brain scans also show that familiar brands cause higher levels of brain activation than unfamiliar ones. So, marketers need to steer a careful course – emphasize the novelty of their offering while still using the power of long-term brand affinity.