Neuromarketing can be defined as a field, employing neuroscientific methods to investigate and understand human behaviour concerning markets and marketing exchanges, according to its common description in scientific literature. The reason for the researchers to adopt these methods, instead of directly asking people about their choices is that individuals cannot or will not express their preferences in many cases. Thus, they prefer using brain imaging tools which are based on collecting hemodynamic or electromagnetic signals resulting from the brain activity during a task for marketing objectives (Vecchiato et al., 2011).
In fact, it is possible for neuroimagining tools to access the information in consumers’ brains, while they are making choices and/or watching a commercial. Accordingly, this information can contribute to the relevant product’s promotion. Looking from the marketing researchers’ perspective, these imaging tools help achieving an efficient trade-off between costs and benefits of the research (Vecchiato et al., 2011).
Functional Magnetic Resonance Image (fMRI) considered as one of the most popular brain imaging tools which produces a sequence of images that are “static” (i.e. showing the brain activity occurred within an interval of almost ten seconds) by measuring the blood flow in the brain. Although they are static, these images have higher spatial resolution than any other neuroimaging methods. As the tools of the most popular imaging method in the field of neuromarketing, fMRI scanners have helped some scientific studies which showed that drinking some popular drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi activates particular areas in the brain (McClure et al., 2004).
Samuel McClure and his fellows have decided to study on Coca-Cola (Coke) and Pepsi, because consumers were having strong preferences over one another, although their formulas are almost the same. With this, came the question of how cultural messages affect our opinions enough to change behavioural preferences about something as simple as a sugary drink.
Researchers have served the participants Coke and Pepsi (1) anonymously and (2) revealing their brands in both behavioural tasting tests and during fMRI scans. McClure and his co-workers have noted that a constant neural response is observed in the subjects’ ventromedial preforntal cortex when the drinks are served anonymously; and that when participants knew what they were drinking, it hugely affected their brain activity, as well as their behavioural preferences.
Brain scans reveal that the choice of Coke or Pepsi does not solely depend on their taste but also their labels, since this information activates cerebral areas related to cultural influences. Therefore, the researchers believe that they have proved neurologically, how brands influence behavioural preferences when they have cultural reflections.
The reason for this, according to the researchers, is that “there are visual images and marketing messages that have insinuated themselves into the nervous systems of humans that consume the drinks” (McClure et al., 2004).
Thanks to its design, the study allowed the researchers to see clearly which cerebral areas are activated when the brand information is available, and when it is not. They have also witnessed that while knowing that the drink is Pepsi does not change anything, the case with Coke is different. When participants are told that the brand is Coca-Cola that dramatically affected their preference and also activated their “dorsolateral prefrontal cortex” and hippocampus, both of which are known to change the individual’s behaviours depending on emotions. This led the researchers to think that hippocapus might be responsible for recalling that cultural influences affecting preferences (McClure et al., 2004).
They also believe that the results of the study implies that there are two interacting brain systems in the prefrontal cortex; one for taste and one for recalling cultural influence, and this interaction is what determines the individual’s preferences.
As a result, it is clear that neuromarketing analysis help marketing experts to improve their knowledge about the customers and their behavioural attitudes and improve the overall marketing performances of their companies in several ways through the information obtained from these studies.
McClure, S.M., Li, J., Tomlin, D., Cypert, K.S., Montague, L.M., & Montague, P.R. (2004). Neural correlates of behavioral preference for culturally familiar drinks. Neuron, 44, 379-387.
Vecchiato, G., et al. (2011). On the use of EEG or MEG brain imaging tools in neuromarketing research. Computational Intelligence and Neuroscience, 1-12.