Insight of the Week: Brands on the Brain

There is a persistent rumor among marketers that strong brands create an emotional attachment within consumers, and that eventually consumers can even associate human qualities with brands. But until a team of Chinese and American researchers put this theory to the test, no one had any scientific evidence to back it up.

Now, it appears, that rumor just might be true.

This week’s insight: A strong brand can, in fact, lead some consumers to associate it with positive (or even negative) human qualities.
Research study: “From “Where” to “What”: Distributed Representations of Brand Associations in the Human Brain” by Yu-Ping Chen, Leif D. Nelson, and Ming Hsu, Journal of Marketing Research, August 2015.
What they did: Researchers showed study participants the logos of prominent companies including Apple, BMW and Disney while scanning their brains in an fMRI machine. Participants then completed a survey about how they perceived each brand. The research team analyzed the brain scans to determine if brain activity could predict survey answers.
What they found: Researchers found that simply by looking at the brain scans, they were able to predict how the participants would respond on the survey. In other words, looking at logos of identifiable brands led participants to associate those brands with certain qualities, thus causing activity in certain regions of the brain. In a nutshell, this means that, for some consumers, brands have a strong enough impact that they are, in fact, associated with human qualities.
But there’s a catch. While the research team was able to predict correctly 63 percent of the time when participants were looking at brands from companies in different industries (such as a car company versus a movie studio), they had a much harder time discerning unique responses when comparing companies that did the same thing. So remember—it might not be your car company brand that is causing such a strong response, but rather all car companies, in general.

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