Wednesday, July 14, 2004

But I Do Like Coke Better, Don’t I?

I first became aware and interested in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) about half a year ago while reading some of the various literature describing how it’s currently being used to (hopefully) unlock some of the secrets of those with learning disabilities. But according to the June 12-18th issue of the Economist, marketers are also using it to unlock the equally daunting secrets of our consuming habits. Here are some of the highlights:

Marketing people are no longer prepared to take your word for it that you favor one product over another. They want to scan your brain to see which one you really prefer. Using the tools of neuroscientists, such as electro-encephalogram (EEG) mapping and functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), they are trying to learn more about the mental processes behind purchasing decisions. The resulting fusion of neuroscience and marketing is, inevitably, being called “neuromarketing.”

Lieberman Research Worldwide, a marketing firm based in Los Angeles, is collaborating with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to enable movie studios to market-test film trailers. More controversially, the New York Times recently reported that a political consultancy, FKF Research, has been studying the effectiveness of campaign commercials using neuromarketing techniques.

Most people say they prefer the taste of Coke to Pepsi, but cannot say why. An unpublished study carried out last summer at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, found that most subjects preferred Pepsi in a blind tasting- fMRI scanning showed that drinking Pepsi lit up a region called the ventral putamen, which is one of the brain’s “reward centers”, far more brightly than Coke, which suggests that its stronger brand outweighs Pepsi’s more pleasant taste.

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