Advances in the cognitive sciences and more sophisticated brain imaging are giving us an increasingly rich and detailed view of the brain’s functions. With these advances it is perhaps not surprising that marketers have jumped on the "brain bandwagon" to seek a neuroscientific explanation for why some brand or marketing campaigns work better than others.
The new field of neuromarketing apparently came of age two years ago after a study by Baylor College of Medicine was published in the respected academic journal Neuron. The study attempted to put to rest that age-old question: Which do you prefer, Coke or Pepsi?
The subjects in the experiment were given an anonymous taste test of each drink and their brain activity was scanned using a functional MRI (fMRI). The researchers were able to view, in real time, which parts of the brain "lit up." The subjects were then given the same drinks but with an image of a respective Coke can or Pepsi can visible to them. Their brains were scanned again.
The results were — you guessed it — "Coke is it." This is how the researchers expressed it: "For the anonymous task, we report a consistent neural response in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that correlated with subjects’ behavioral preferences for these beverages. In the brand-cued experiment, brand knowledge for one of the drinks (Coke) had a dramatic influence on expressed behavioral preferences and on the measured brain responses."
So what the researchers found was that the subjects had "stronger feelings" toward Coke, even though both Coke and Pepsi ranked equally well when measured purely on taste. The researchers surmise that there are two separate brain systems involved in generating preferences. When judgments are based solely on sensory information (taste in this case), relative activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex predicts people’s preferences. However, cultural information (branding) can bias preference decisions through the dorsolateral region of the prefrontal cortex, with the hippocampus engaged to recall the associated information.
You are probably thinking, "Tell me something I don’t know. I know marketing can influence behavior, that is why I do it." And you would be right, but to visualize this within the brain is new, and perhaps brings us a little closer to understanding the relationship between the mind and behavior.