Shoppers' Brains Under Brand-Name Control

Your brain may figure out what you'll snatch up for this season's holiday gifts even before you check your lists, according to new research presented today.

Well-known commercial brands have now been proven to get a positive emotional reaction from the human brain, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

Scientists found that your brain might make purchase decisions for you -- based just on a product's brand name.

To understand how different product brands affect the human brain, a team of German researchers used a functional MRI machine, or fMRI, to test 20 adult men and women.

The volunteers were shown logos of well-known car manufacturers and insurance companies followed by other, lesser-known logos.

The resulting fMRI images showed that well-known brands activated an area of the brain involved in positive emotions -- such as emotions associated with a reward.

The lesser-known brands elicited brain activity reflective of a negative emotional response

Surprisingly, the brain's reactions had nothing to do with what product or service the logo was selling.

The response depended on how strong -- or familiar -- the brand was.

That observation is consistent with what marketing executives see in real life.

"It's not necessarily the brand identity that resonates with people, but the meaning within that matters," said Tom Burchard, vice president of brand experience at Design Continuum in Boston.

"Brands … communicate meaning that elevates the status of that brand," Burchard said.

Brain Research Provides Important Market Data

The brain had an easier time processing images of strong brands, according to today's research. Lesser-known brands demanded more action from parts of the brain responsible for memory and negative emotion.

This kind of research is called "brain branding."

It's a special approach to studying how the brain perceives and processes commercial brands "to determine whether companies have a 'direct hit' with their target audience," Burchard said.

Researchers may use the technique to study neuroeconomics -- which is basically the study of why people decide to buy what they buy.

It's a hot and developing area of market and economic research.

"The vision of this research is to better understand the needs of people and to create markets that are more oriented towards satisfaction of those needs," said study author Christine Born, a radiologist at University Hospital in Munich, Germany, in a news release.

Study authors hope this research will shed light on the power of brand names and will help create markets that better fit people's needs -- and wallets.

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