Branding: Does Hate Trump Love?

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by: Roger Dooley

Jim Edwards of Brandweek has penned an interesting and lengthy article describing his own experience as a neuromarketing subject, as well as providing some general background on the promise offered and challenges faced by the nascent science.

The most striking part: My brain processed high-value brands on its left side, handling the low-value ones on the right. That’s not what one would expect, since the so-called left-brain is traditionally associated with conceptual processing and the right with emotions.

In my case, the high-value brands activated three areas: my left angular gyrus, left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and my left orbitofrontal gyrus. Those systems are associated with the extraction of meaning, conceptual organization, and reward, respectively. “I haven’t seen that before,” Hirsch said. “My curiosity is piqued by that.”

Mine, too. When it came to brands I dislike, I apparently really disliked them. My right insula-an internal fold just over an inch in length-is lit up like a runway. “Now, your brain isn’t that big, but it’s devoted on your right side to something where you’re saying, ‘That’s a low-value item for me,’” Hirsch explained. Worse, the insula is understood to handle feelings of disgust. “That is not a result to be trifled with,” Hirsch said.

And that’s the big surprise: These results are the exact opposite of the received marketing wisdom. I’m not, apparently, emotional about brands I like. Instead, my brain behaves like an antiques dealer sifting an estate sale for high-priced items. My emotional feelings-specifically, disgust-are reserved for the brands I dislike. And I don’t merely ignore those brands like clutter; I process them through the area of my brain that helps me avoid rotten food and poisonous berries. [Emphasis added. From Brandweek Read My Mind by Jim Edwards.]

The results of Edwards’ scan would be interesting if they can be replicated with more subjects. The fMRI scans show that contrary to expectations, “I love Apple!” packs much less emotional punch than, “Bud Light – Euuwwww, yuck!”

Even if it turns out that the emotional appeal of brands is stronger than this one test suggests, this may be one illustration of the difficulty of turning around a brand that, for one reason or another, has earned the dislike of consumers. Similarly, it could explain the difficulty of adding new customers in a market that has become emotionally polarized. I hope that Hirsch and other researchers pursue this line of inquiry.

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