Marketing Neuroscience: Brain Fitness


Usually we talk about neuroscience marketing here, i.e., improving marketing using brain science (aka neuromarketing). But, to engage in a verbal contortion, what about marketing brain improvement with science? That’s exactly what proponents of brain fitness systems are trying to do. The confluence of demographics and research suggest continued and rapid growth in the field.

A few months ago, we made a brief brain fitness post. Since then, we’ve looked at this topic a bit more, and also talked to Bob Moos of the Dallas Morning News as he was working on an interesting brain fitness article.

The two big driving forces for the brain fitness movement are demographics, particularly the aging baby boom population, and research, which indicates that the rate of brain impairment can be slowed by some kinds of mental stimulation and activity.

The demographic side of things is fairly obvious. As baby boomers approach the traditional age of retirement, most have much higher expectations than earlier generations. They expect to live longer (a reasonable assumption based on increasing life expectancy data), and they expect to lead a more vigorous lifestyle. Sales of orthopedic implants have been growing annually, and are expected to surge as boomers replace failing joints. In particular, boomers seem to fear Alzheimer’s disease, inasmuch as it has seemed to strike apparently healthy people in a somewhat random and unpreventable manner. A European survey on health concerns noted that the top worry was Alzheimer’s/dementia. Hence, potential techniques to reduce the chance of being impacted by dementia would be likely to draw considerable interest.

Research, fortunately, is obliging would-be brain fitness marketers with data that indicates that mental decline due to Alzheimer’s isn’t inevitable. Keeping one’s brain active seems to stave off the effects of the disease, even in those individuals whose brains show evidence of the physical characteristics associated with it.

The major study that launched the belief that the brain, like a muscle, operates on a “use it or lose it” basis is the famous nun study. A group of nuns was tracked over many years, and a correlation between stimulating mental activity and delayed onset of dementia symptoms was found. Another study published in the JAMA evaluated a different group of subjects and concluded, “These results suggest that frequent participation in cognitively stimulating activities is associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.” When credible researchers publish such bold conclusions, it’s easy to see why baby boomers are looking for solutions and marketers are lining up to provide them.

Posit Science is one of the more interesting efforts to capitalize on the desire for brain fitness. They seem to be trying a multi-pronged approach to the market. First, they are attempting to extend the science of brain fitness with their own research and publications – they have presented at the American Psychological Association, the Society for Neuroscience, and other conferences. On the product front, they are pushing $395 brain fitness software for individuals, and offering programs for residential communities and similar groups.

As a marketer, one has to be impressed by Posit’s approach. With a roster of serious academics directly or indirectly involved in their research and product development efforts, they are clearly able to establish a level of scientific credibility. Furthermore, they are actively engaged in research to show that their particular products produce tangible results. This will further serve to separate Posit from marketers who will rush into the brain fitness market with puzzles and the like intended to stimulate brain activity but without any research behind them. And, by pursuing both the individual and commercial markets, Posit is positioned to go where the market is most receptive.

Another smart move by Posit is the implementation of a viral marketing tool on their site – a brain speed test. This is the kind of link that gets published and passed on from individual to individual. If they can use it, that is. The test requires Adobe Shockwave, and the Posit site insisted that I didn’t have it installed, even after I reinstalled it to be sure. Seniors trying to run the test are likely to be confounded by browser alerts, automatically blocked downloads, etc. if their PC doesn’t already have Shockwave installed.

We can expect to see a variety of firms attracted to the brain fitness market. Nintendo has already introduced a video game aimed at the segment. Publishers have been jumping into the fray – a search for “brain fitness” at Amazon yielded 18 results, and a broader search would no doubt have yielded many more relevant products. The real question for companies like Posit is whether people will pay a premium price for their product rather than, say, working free crossword puzzles or engaging in other mental activity that costs nothing. The answer, I think, is “yes” – some people who have the resources will happily pay for what they think is a proven and convenient solution to their problem. Even though people can walk for free, they still buy expensive treadmills and join health clubs in the name of cardio-vascular fitness. It’s no big leap to imagine spending a few hundred dollars if it seems likely to stave off the specter of mental decline.

  1. Sandra says

    Sadly, the buzzword neuroword “neurofitness” from Faith Popcorn doesn’t seem to be catching on. Brain fitness it is then. But the trend has indeed established itself.

    That brain speed test is intensely viral. Of course you score older than your age and are determined to beat the score by playing over and over and buying the game. Not only that, it’s a bloggable meme. People love posting quiz scores.

    The game would have more credibility with more obvious science and less blatant marketing. Nintendo’s attached itself to a neuroscientist; why not have famous surgeons as spokespeople? But we’ll still tell the studies from the ads with their slogans; and the methodology.

    Ultimately though, what’s the harm? It could prove to be very beneficial to an entire generation, and help us move into a longer lifespan.

    Games are fun, too!

  2. Sandra says

    People do mistrust the Posit marketing sheen. One comment includes, “The most offensive thing about this whole farce is the term ‘science’ used in the name of the company. There’s nothing scientific about these clowns.”

    It may actually make people more inclined to be sceptical; scientists know to be critical and watch for signs of bogus science. It’s a tough sell when you combine the two.

    It’s important the science be solid, because otherwise there’s debunking a la Brain Gym.

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