Name brands get in your head, literally

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Product branding has been shown to actually provoke strong activity in your brain, according to a new study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

"This is the first functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) test examining the power of brands," said Christine Born, MD, radiologist at University Hospital, Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany. "We found that strong brands activate certain areas of the brain independent of product categories."

The approach used by the researchers goes well beyond market surveys, to say the least, in understanding how brains respond to particular brands.

"Brain imaging technologies may complement methods normally used in the developing area of neuroeconomics," Born said.

Born and the rest of his team used fMRI to study 20 adult men and women who were all right-handed, averaged 28 years of age and were highly educated. While in the scanners the participants were presented with a series of three-second visuals containing the logos of well-known and lesser-known brands of car products and insurance companies. They also were presented with a simple question about their agreement with the message that was presented. As this occurred, the fMRI acquired images of the brain, depicting areas that activated in response to the different stimuli.

The results showed that strong brands activated a network of cortical areas and areas involved in positive emotional processing and associated with self-identification and rewards. Also, strong brands were processed with less effort on the part of the brain. Weak brands showed higher levels of activation in areas of working memory and negative emotional response, according to a release of the results.

"The vision of this research is to better understand the needs of people and to create markets which are more oriented towards satisfaction of those needs," Born said. "Research aimed at finding ways to address individual needs may contribute to a higher quality of life."