Brain Branding Story Grows Legs


When we wrote Brain Branding post yesterday, most of the mainstream press hadn’t picked up on the unassuming press release from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). What a difference a day makes – Google News counted nearly forty related articles by this morning, including:

BBC News: Well-known brands set our brainwaves buzzing, a study reveals
Washington Post: Popular Brands May Brand the Brain
ABC News: Shoppers’ Brains Under Brand-Name Control
Wall Street Journal: This is Your Brain on a Strong Brand: MRIs Show Even Insurers Can Excite
Cosmos (Australia): Famous brands easier on the brain
Economic Times (India): Brand power tells brain what to buy

If past experience is any indication, a widely-reported story like this will continue to generate coverage as still more editors ask reporters, “What do we have on that brain-branding story?”

The blogosphere is reacting, too. The Engage in PR blog reports on the study in Your Brain on Branding, and suggests that the way we create brands today has been dramatically changed by social media and other innovations. Blackfriars’ Marketing writes Scientific Proof That Brands Excite Brains and wishes, “if we could just get similar neurological data for marketing in general, a marketer’s life would be so much easier…” – hey, that what neuromarketing is all about! Eric Olsen of Blogcritics implied skullduggery (sorry, couldn’t resist a bad pun) by lumping together, “Marketers, public relations, sales and advertising professionals, and those who study their collective manipulations of consumer heads and hands…” in Strong Brands Balm Consumer Brains, New Study Shows.

The study didn’t strike me as all that profound, at least from the information in the initial release. Are we really shocked that a familiar brand activates different areas of the brain than an unfamiliar one? To me, the branding questions that marketers need neuroscience to help with are more subtle – how does our brain activity differ in reacting to, say, brands like Lexus, Ford, and Yugo? All are familiar brands (Yugo is thankfully becoming less so as time passes…), but each would have a very different consumer perception. And, more to the point, how does any difference in observed brain activity inform our efforts to position a new brand or reposition an existing one?

Still, we’re not complaining about the burst of interest by both the press and bloggers – neuromarketing and neuroeconomics still don’t get much mainstream attention, and, as Barbara Payne reminds us in Science Proves Branding is Worth the Investment, any publicity is good publicity.

  1. Kyle says

    Agree with the comment that what marketing people need from neuroscience is a better sense of the subtleties in branding and how we react. I’m an ‘old pro’ to branding, but new to ideas such as ‘neuromarketing’. Really interesting, thanks for pinging my blog and introducing me to your writings.


  2. Mark says


    This doesn’t ‘prove’ anything of the sort that folk want to believe, I’m afraid. Tiny sample to start with. Huge amount of extrapolation. And the end of the day….all it says is there was some brain activity when an individual subject was exposed to a visual stimulus. Not what it was or why. Or even how that relates to behaviour (which you’ve repeatedly and rightly highlighted on the blog).

    …so what would you imagine the opposite result telling us? That nothing was going on at all in the brain of individual subject? Now that would be a shocker.

    Not sure I agree with you on the any-old-publicity-is-good-publicity. The more of the “magic”-neuoroscience stories appear the greater the disappointment in what can be delivered. And the potential value of the discipline to marketing and business folks will not be realised. The application of neuroscience to marketing and other mass behaviour phenomena is still very young – a “fledgling” discipline you call it on previous posts…just like the purer science itself.

    A couple of years ago, Susan Greenfield told the UK MRS Conference that we’re not even quite “at the end of the beginning” of neuroscience and that the current methodologies are like “Victorian photography”: more interesting for what they fail to reveal than for what they do reveal. Let’s just be careful til then.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.