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The Buying Brain – The Neuroscience of Marketing

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Posted by luke on

As we traverse our cultural landscape, we are constantly presented with the same request from every single brand. “Please love me the most.”

In a light-hearted way, many people would openly admit that they “love” certain brands. “I love Apple products” or “I love Chanel perfume” are phrases uttered so frequently that we rarely take it too seriously. But is it possible to ‘love’ a brand in the same way that we people in real life? And if so, what is the physiology of brand-love that marketers so desperately aim to tap into?

Neuroscientist Dr. Paul Zak was the head researcher conducting “The Brand Love Study,” aimed at finding answers to these questions and more. The results were surprising. It turns out that we can love brands. A lot.

Sometimes more than those near and dear to us!

Is this right? Can people really love a brand more than their own mother or child? Although you would be hard pressed to find someone who would willingly admit these things, the metrics of the study do confirm these claims.

The crux of the study was really a study of stories. When humans connect to an object, it is the story they associate with it. For example, a watch passed down by someone’s great grandfather is not emotionally significant because of the quality of the gears within the watch, rather the meaning attributed to the watch’s history. For example, “my grandfather wore this watch during WW2, this watch symbolises the struggle and courage he displayed during that time.” The story is the thing that counts.

Now this is nothing new. Marketers have been employing the ‘story’ technique since the dawn of advertising. Any product becomes encased with emotional significance after advertisers have woven powerful stories into their existence. A typical 4WD ad will often sell the story of ‘adventure’ and ‘excitement’ along with the purchase of the vehicle. So, how does this relate to the study?

In order to measure the emotional responses of the subjects, they were connected to a series of wireless monitors, which collected data such as heart rate, nerve twitches, emotional connection and attention levels. Subjects were asked a series of questions about their favourite brand and then asked the same set of questions about a loved one. The tests revealed that in many cases, brands out-performed their human counterparts. One man’s favourite sports team was measured at a higher response level than his own toddler!

Upon further analysis, it was confirmed that the stories people associated to the brands were the driving force behind their emotional connection. Dr. Zak suggests

that this form of brand-love is possible because, as he describes it, the human brain is very lazy. It uses the same systems for similar functions, so in this case, he says that there are no discrete brain functions for varying kinds of love. “The brain uses the same systems for all kinds love,” he says.

What does this mean for the future of marketing? Can advertising be perfected to a science? Is this a good thing? These questions are only the tip of the iceberg of future implications of this new approach to marketing.

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