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Imaging the brain’s response to brand names

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Scientists have observed through functional MRI that well-known product brand names have a strong, positive effect on the human brain, independent of the type of product or service being offered.

Led by Dr. Christine Born, researchers at University Hospital, Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, found that lesser-known commercial brands activate brain areas associated with working memory and negative emotional response. Their study relates to “brain branding,” an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how brands are perceived at a basic level, beyond the scope of marketing surveys. Complementing the emerging field of neuro-economics, the research may contribute to a better understanding of people’s marketplace needs and how best they can be satisfied.

The researchers used the imaging technique to study 20 adult men and women who were right-handed, had a mean age of 28 and were highly educated. While lying on MRI scanning tables, the subjects were shown a series of logos of strong (well-known) and weak (lesser known) brands of car manufacturers and insurance companies.

A brief question was included withtypical advertising pictures combined with the accordant logo to assess the perception of the brand, and the participants pressed a button to respond to a four-point scale ranging from “disagree” to “agree strongly.”

During the process, images were acquired depicting the reaction of different brain areas to the visual stimuli. The subjects’ perceptions of the various brands also were tested by a questionnaire prior to and following the scanning procedure. An abstract color image was displayed as a control condition.

The imagery showed that the strong brands elicited a relatively effortless response from a network of cortical areas that are involved in positive emotional processing, reward and self-identification.

The findings were presented Nov. 28 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Dec 2006
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