In search of the unconsious mind – How to conduct neuromarketing?

Part two of my take-aways from The Vlerick Informeel Lecture (16 June 2009)

Why people prefer Coca-Cola over Pepsi?

Unconscious thoughts have clearly a big impact on our actions. Neuromarketeers try to study this impact in different ways. On the one hand they make use of psycho physiological measures: they study eye movements and the size of the pupil in the eyes and measure if a certain stimuli evokes a reaction in the skin or voice. The problem with those psycho physiological measures is that they do not reveal any information about emotions.

A second type of measures come from from neuroscience. With the aid of fMRI scans, neuromarketeers look at the activity of the brain structures when seeing marketing stimuli. Depending on the region of the brain that is activated, they can tell what the person unconsciously thinks. Neuromarketing is used for solving all types of research questions: to detect what your most popular brand is, how attractive you find packagings, what you think of the price, why you buy a certain product.
The most common example of neuromarketing is the Coke-Pepsi challenge. In a blind taste test, most of the people prefer the taste of Pepsi above the taste Coca-Cola. Whenever the research participants know what they are drinking, they prefer Coca-Cola. Neuromarketeers have investigated this strange phenomenon and they came to a remarkable conclusion: Pepsi activates indeed the ‘taste’ centre in our brains but Coca-Cola shows a strong activation in our emotional brain. The marketeers from Coca-Cola have clearly done a good job in branding!
Why a cow drinks milk?
Neuromarketing does not always involve the usage of complex machinery. One way in which they study also the unconscious brain is through reaction time tests. By measuring the speeds of reacting to a certain stimuli or putting participants under time pressure, the association with a certain brand, product, advertisement are measured. A small test can make it more clear. Please answer as quickly as possible on the following questions:

  • What is the color of snow?
  • What is the color of paper?
  • What color is a doctor’s lab coat?
  • What is the opposite of black?
  • What does a cow drink?

The majority of people will have answered ‘milk’ on the last question, not immediately realizing that a cow actually drinks water. How can we explain this common mistake? As you have noticed, the answer to all the previous questions was the word ‘white’. Since we have repeated this word several times, it has unconsciously been activated in our heads. It is however also the case that the words that are associated with ‘white’ are also a little bit activated. In this context, ‘milk’ is thus a word with a greater level of activation. When we finally ask the question about ‘a drink’ and ‘a cow’, two words that are also associated with ‘milk’, the threshold of this word is exceeded and people incorrectly answer ‘milk’.

The neural networks in our brain are clearly a powerful tool for marketers who can use common associations with their brand in their communication. The associative networks in our brains influence our behavior more than we think. Still not convinced? Have a look at this movie that illustrated how brain associations even influence marketeers.

 

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