Monday, August 06, 2007

The Luxury Of Neurobranding

Speaking of marketing campaigns, neuromarketing is in the news [or at least, a scientific journal] again, along with other neuro words (more on that later). A recent fMRI study examined branding and the brain by showing participants pictures of logos from "luxury" and "pragmatic" products. The new paper by this research group (Schaefer & Rotte, 2007a) appears to be the third publication (Schaefer & Rotte, 2007b, Schaefer et al., 2006) from the same experiment:
In our previous study we report activation in the prefrontal cortex related to familiar brands (Schaefer et al., 2006). The present study is an extension of this work and uses the same database. [NOTE: they didn't cite their own 2007b paper.]
Well, what did they do and what did they find? Brand logos from 21 car manufacturers (14 familiar, 7 mostly unfamiliar to the German participants) were shown to the subjects while brain scans were taken, and
participants were instructed that they will see logos of car manufacturers and that they should imagine using and driving a product of the brand they see. If they would see a logo of a car manufacturer they did not know they should imagine driving and using a generic car.
The logos were rated on familiarity after the fMRI portion of the experiment. In brief, the medial prefrontal cortex, supposedly associated with self-referential processing,1 showed a larger response to luxury logos, compared to the unfamiliar logos. In contrast, the economy logos activated brain regions supposedly related to cognitive control.2 Why? What kind of cars did the subjects [11 women and 3 men] drive? Did they all drive Ferraris and disdain Citroëns? That information wasn't reported.
Schaefer M, Rotte M. (2007a). Thinking on luxury or pragmatic brand products: Brain responses to different categories of culturally based brands. Brain Res. Jul 5; [Epub ahead of print]

Culturally based brands have a high impact on people's economic actions. Here we aimed to examine whether socioeconomic information conveyed by certain classes of brands (prestigious versus pragmatic classes) differentially evoke brain response. We presented icons of brands while recording subject's brain activity during a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) session. After the experiment, we asked subjects to assess the brands according to different characteristics. Results revealed an active network of bilateral superior frontal gyri, hippocampus and posterior cingulate related to familiar brands in general. Brands of the category sports and luxury activated regions in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and precuneus. In contrast, brands rated as value products activated the left superior frontal gyrus and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). The results suggest an active cortical network related to cognitive control for value brands and a network known to be associated with self-relevant processing for prestigious brands. We discuss the results as differential engagement of the prefrontal cortex depending on the attributed characteristic of a brand.
Why is this research important? Commercial Alert has a highly critical take on neuromarketing...
Neuromarketing is a controversial new field of marketing which uses medical technologies such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) -- not to heal, but to sell products.

We see three big potential problems with neuromarketing: (1) increased incidence of marketing-related diseases; (2) more effective political propaganda; and, (3) more effective promotion of degraded values.
...whereas the Neuromarketing Blog
is the place to talk about using brain science in Marketing and Sales. We cover both breaking news about relevant brain research as well as “big picture” topics like ethical dilemmas posed by cutting-edge technology.
It's no surprise that the Neurocritic takes the critical view, preferring that expensive research resources be spent on advancing basic and applied knowledge to find cures for diseases (for instance) and not on how the brain responds to luxury and pragmatic products. But automobile manufacturers and soft drink companies aren't about to fund research to help Rwandan refugees with PTSD, now are they?

And what about those neurowords, like neurobranding? You can read a lot more on neurowords at Neurofuture:
OneLook Dictionary Search turns up a long list of neurowords (thanks Shawn!) that do appear in dictionaries online. Others, including neuromarketing, are bound to appear soon. Aspies activists will probably lobby to get "neurotypical" in the Oxford English Dictionary (the ultimate authority on neologism acceptance). Others will appear in time, and in more flexible dictionaries first, as they're noticed.
In March 2006, Neurofuture held the first-ever neuroword contest, with "neurologism" crowned the winning entry. Turns out the neurologism neologism had been coined in 2004 by Jake Dunagan in Neuro-Futures: The Brain, Politics, and Power (PDF), so a second neuroword contest was held 3 months later. The winning entry this time was
Neurogibberish- Seemingly impressive jargon used by some neuroscientists to hide lack of real findings.
For example,
In our study brands, that were rated as value brands elicited activation of the superior frontal gyrus and ACC. The superior frontal gyrus is thought to contribute to higher cognitive functions. It has been related to working memory (Wager and Smith, 2003), but recently also to cognitions related to moral decisions and judgment (Borg et al., 2006).
[The subjects were making moral judgments of Toyotas?]

More recently, Bohemian Scientist discussed

neo-neuro fields

one of the beauties of neuroscience is its universality: at some level, everything involves the brain. too often, though, people affix "neuro-" to the front of their favorite subject, then claim victory over a paradigm-shifting new discipline. two blogs dealt with this issue recently: neuroaesthetics led to some deep insights, whereas "neuro-leadership" just fell flat. both posts were entertaining and insightful.

Do you have any new neurowords to report?


Schaefer M, Rotte M. (2007b). Favorite brands as cultural objects modulate reward circuit. Neuroreport 18:141-5.

Schaefer M, Berens H, Heinze HJ, Rotte M. (2006). Neural correlates of culturally familiar brands of car manufacturers. Neuroimage 31:861-5.

1 The exact location, however, moves around from study to study.
2 However, Table 1 and Fig 4B do not instill great confidence that the anterior cingulate cortex was one of the activated regions.

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At August 14, 2007 3:01 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

I like the word encephiatrics, coined by Ronald Pies.

"...derived from the Greek roots enkephalos (brain) and iatros (healer)," it's similar to neuropsychiatrics.


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