Priming the brain: making consumers enjoy the brand more

Branded painkillers have been shown to be more effective than non-branded painkillers.


The extent to which we will enjoy/benefit from a product or service is dictated not just by the inherent utility of the product or service, but by the extent to which we expect to enjoy/benefit from a product or service.  Depending upon what we expect, and how we have been primed, the frontal lobes either inhibit or amplify the activity of the emotional brain.

This plays an important role for brands, and is most famously captured by the fact that Coca Cola tastes better than unnamed cola only in non-blind taste tests (when consumers can’t see the brand they can’t tell the difference). What neuroscientific research has shown us is that not only do consumers think they enjoy branded Coke more, they actually enjoy it more.

This effect has been captured in products (by psychology professors such as Dan Ariely) the utility of which is not enjoyment but other benefits, such as branded pain killers reducing pain to a greater degree and branded energy drinks improving mental performance more. The effect of branding makes the experience of the product objectively better, and therefore improves brand metrics post consumption, word of mouth and re-purchasing rates. These are long term benefits that current short term ROI analysis fails to capture, and immediate brand metrics often fail to pick up. This is important as there are numerous sectors of the economy where this could account for the vast majority of the effect that an ad campaign has (and thus needs an effective form of measurement), or the vast majority of effect that an ad campaign should aim for (rather than a misleading and inaccurate set of brand metrics – ad awareness – that pushes the planning and creative teams away from key goals).

In terms of measurement it suggests that, where possible, groups who have and haven’t seen the ad should be tested for their actual experience of the product. This can be utilised on a small level for pre-testing and on a larger level for effectiveness measurement.

It can also affect the placing of ads, as the focus shifts to increasing the enjoyment of consumption as well as increasing the initial trial or purchasing of a product. For instance FMCG ads often target ‘housewives with kids’ before they go shopping for a product, but could also target the family before they consume the product, so that their enjoyment is increased and they tell ‘mother’ to buy more. In this way branded ads could, for instance, support price promotions, and help accrue a long-term benefit out of a short term price reduction cost.

Another example, beyond FMCG, is car ads, where the campaign could not only incrementally increase the number of people who test drive a branded car, but also improve the purchase rate of everyone who tests drives the branded car, by priming them, and thus improving the subjective experience.

Finally it is interesting to note that in an environmentally conscious world, advertising could be an efficient means by which we improve an individual’s experiences without expending greater resources. If we can objectively and subjectively improve an individual’s experience of a product or service without having to incur any extra production cost for that product or service (by priming a consumer’s experience), then we have a cheap and effective means by which consumers’ utility can be increased, without the need for them to actually consume more.

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