Where Brain Science and Marketing Meet

The Power of “New”

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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.

12 Comments
  1. ouija repair says

    No wonder that word “new” is so often focused in a starburst and emphasized further with all caps, ital, and an exclamation point.

  2. elementsinc dotnet says

    ‘new’ ‘free’ ‘improved’ or at the frangrance counters, ‘gift with purchase’…wonder when this reward behavior becomes a factor in purchases, or at least, how much attention we give products? and the fact that these terms are usually paired with bright, ‘hot’ colors probably stimulates the brain even more. seems like this might affect product marketing vs. online marketing more. our challenge w/online marketing and brand connection is keeping users interesting in coming back, most of the time w/out the reward of something ‘new’ or ‘free’.

  3. Florian says

    To quite a lot of people the word “new” in connection to a new article creates the feeling that posessing this unique article makes the person possessing it unique as well. That’s probably antother reason for the attractiveness of the word “NEW”.

  4. Shyam Kumar says

    According to the research does this hold true for all types of products?

    Or is it that the word ‘new’, while in itself is possibly a stimulant, the overall reaction of the person depends on the product in question?

    I still think that there are products/brands which inspite of being repackaged, trigger negative emotions (repulsive, maybe), based on a not so satisfying history of relations with the product/brand.

    Or maybe I am just extending the findings of the research to believe it suggests otherwise. 🙂

  5. Roger Dooley
    Twitter: rogerdooley
    says

    Shyam, I agree that it’s a complex interaction. In the same way that New Coke bombed because of very positive associations with the brand, slapping a “New!” label on a product with a bad history is unlikely to make it a success.

    Elements, I think that “New” can play a part in encouraging repeat website visits, though not in the same way as labeling a product “new.” Sites that have frequently updated content DO attract more repeat visitors. Identifying that content as “new” will draw visitors to it and communicate that content is updated often. See also Marketing to the Infovore for discussion of our desire for new information.

  6. Bill Huddleston, CFC Expert says

    New Coke bombed not because it was new, but because the marketers didn’t tell the consumers the full story – they just asked “Do you like the taste of this new Coke?”

    They didn’t add the fact that they intended to pull “classic” Coke off the market.

    The lesson learned is “Don’t forget to ask the “new Coke” question – What happens if X does happen, AND What happens if X doesn’t happen.

    It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and activities of the new project without considering all the ramifications.

    I see this all the time in these two arenas:

    Many non-profits that profess to be donor friendly, are really more interested in what’s easiest for them, not what’s best for the donor.

    Since workplace giving is not the latest, fanciest on-line method of fundraising, non-profits have forgotten that it is the only method of fundraising that is subsidized, high leverage and low risk.

    Regards,
    Bill Huddleston

  7. Paul Barnett says

    Curiously in the computer games packaged goods market there is a big upswing on games marked ‘USED’.

    They sell at a fraction of a discount from the full priced games.

    Indeed some retailers slap a USED sticker on new games to ensure they sell.

    Curious eh?

    1. Roger Dooley
      Twitter: rogerdooley
      says

      Interesting observation, Paul. Maybe in the case of games (where a used game is functionally just as good as a new one) the “USED” sticker has the same effect as a “SALE” sticker. I.e., this game is a bargain. (I have also seen new computer equipment stickered as “refurbished,” though I suspect that is more about getting around manufacturer-specified prices than trying to up the appeal to consumers. Might MSRP issues be a factor in the game business as well?

      Roger

  8. Paul Barnett says

    Breaking street dates and rampant price cutting leads me to assume MSRP has little effect.

    Retailers certainly see a huge margin increase on a USED sale, that might be a fueling factor?

    Perhaps its the move to digital download for games that has changed the perception for the customer? A game has a binary test (it will or won’t work) where as most used items have a quality test (the CD skips or has a scratch)?

    Perhaps its the inverse of the penny gap? That people just see a bargain and can take the fact its second hand? I wonder what would happen with fresh donuts at retail price and X minute old donuts at retail less 1p. I wonder how long X cold be before you see a result?

  9. […] Start a tweet with New blog post, when you’ve published a new post. Because people are attracted to new stuff (source and source). […]

  10. Ray Gadd says

    I have been against using the work NEW on some of our new products.

    First, I don’t trust new items I would rather have someone tell me to purchase a new item than try it myself.

    Second, I don’t like the real estate it takes up on a package.

    Third, I guess I’ll try based on your research.

    Thanks.

    1. Roger Dooley
      Twitter: rogerdooley
      says

      Ray, some individuals and demographic groups are more resistant to the appeal of new products. Don’t have the data handy, but I seem to recall that older people were less likely to experiment with new brands, new products, etc.

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