Brands & Brains – The Emotion of Logos

The brain reacts in a unique way when it spots a famous brand name, according to scientific research.

Consumers reading a brand name do not treat it like any other word – instead they activate parts of the brain normally used to process emotions, the study claims.

Research in the journal “Brain and Language”, published on New Scientist.com, used computer testing to check the reactions of 48 students at the University of California in Los Angeles.

A brand’s power is that it conjures up a whole range of associations and ideas, which are primarily emotional

Dr Eran Zeidel, who led the study, suggests that the arrival of the “brand” in the past century has prompted brain evolution.

The students were told to watch a computer screen, and various words were flashed up, either on the left hand side or right hand side, and in capitals or lower case letters.

The words displayed were either common nouns such as “river” or “tree”, brand names such as Sony or Compaq, or “non-words” such as “beash” and “noerds”.

The students were asked to hit a button as soon as they recognised the word as real.

Noun recognition

They spotted the common nouns most quickly, followed by the brand names and then the non-words.

The common nouns were identified more quickly when displayed on the right hand side of the screen.

This suggests, as expected, that the left hand side of the brain is highly involved in processing them.

However, the reverse was true when the brand names were displayed, with the subjects spotting them more quickly when they were displayed on the left.

This probably means that the right hand side of the brain – more commonly associated with the processing of emotions – was more heavily involved.

Dr Zaidel said: “It is surprising.

The rules that apply to word recognition in general do not necessarily apply here.

A brand’s power is that it conjures up a whole range of associations and ideas, which are primarily emotional.

An fMRI study was conducted with unfamiliar and familiar (strong and weak) brands to assess linguistic encoding and retrieval processes, and the use of declarative and experiential information, in brand evaluations.

As expected, activations in brain areas associated with linguistic encoding were higher for unfamiliar brands, but activations in brain areas associated with information retrieval were higher for strong brands. Interestingly, weak brands were engaged simultaneously in both processes.

Most importantly, activations of the pallidum, associated with positive emotions, for strong brands and activations of the insula, associated with negative emotions, for weak and unfamiliar brands suggested that consumers use experienced emotions rather than declarative information to evaluate brands.

As a result, brand experiences should be considered a key driver of brand equity in addition to brand awareness and cognitive associations.

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