When Montague gave a taste of an unnamed soda to his volunteers he
found that more people preferred Pepsi. On the scan images the ventral
putamen, one of the brain’s reward centers, had a response that was
five times stronger than for people who preferred Coke.
The shock came when Read repeated the experiment, this time telling
volunteers which brand they were tasting. Nearly all the subjects then
said they preferred the Coke. Moreover, different parts of the brain
fired as well, especially the medial prefrontal cortex, an area
associated with thinking and judging. Without a doubt the subjects were
letting their experience of the Coke brand influence their preferences.
The work of Montague and other studies prove that branding goes
far beyond images and memory recall. The medial prefrontal cortex is a
part of the brain known to be involved in our sense of self. It fires
in response to something -- an image, name or concept -- that resonates
with who we are. Something clicks, and we are more likely to buy.
But the secret of Coke’s marketing success has yet to be
solved. “We’ve shown that the Coke brand has a powerful influence,”
says Montague. “But we haven’t asked what that is yet. Is it something
simple and stupid like the red can, the curvy script or the hard
consonants, or something much more complex.”
Still, the idea that neuroscience has applications for business
is causing a wave of excitement in the marketing sector. It prompted
the BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences to establish a
Neurostrategies division and conduct fMRI research.
“Our thinking is to understand the brain’s involvement as
thoroughly as possible,” says Joey Reiman, BrightHouse’s CEO. “We try
to understand the images of activity in the brain that show how people
feel about things.”
If it all sounds a little too Orwellian, then you are in good
company. Commercial Alert, the anti-consumerism activist group, says
that neuromarketing, the application of neuroscience to marketing, will
only add to the ills caused by modern marketing.
A BrightHouse press release states that “Thought Sciences marketing
analysts use [fMRI]... information to more accurately measure consumer
preference, and then apply this knowledge to help marketers better
create products and services and to design more effective marketing
Could brain imaging show marketers how to effectively control
our minds? BrightHouse’s Reiman says no. “There is no possibility that
in my lifetime we’ll be able to peer into brains and make them buy
more. But businesses that do not use neuroscience are experimenting
with failure. These studies will help to position companies as more