Tapping into the consumer subconscious with surveys and focus groups is more art than science, but Dr. Christine Born, a fellow of radiology at the Ludwig Maximilians Universitat Munchen, wants to switch that equation around using functional MRI to understand the processes that accompany positive and negative associations with products.
In a presentation at the European Congress of Radiology in Vienna, Born reported that commercials for products favorably received by consumers produce less brain activation than weak products.
"Our interpretation is that the strong brand has a little more positive input for the brain and requires less effort to process," Born said.
Also strong brands activate centers on the right side of the brain, whereas weak ones activate both the right and left sides.
The research is preliminary. Only 20 subjects, split equally by gender and with a mean age of 28, were tested. Born's early work, however, may provide the foundation for a benchmark test to gauge product strength among consumers, she said.
In the future, Born would like to expand the current group so as to stratify results by gender and age, identifying what appeals to different consumers and the neurophysiological processes that accompany their responses. She especially wants to understand the likes and dislikes of elderly subjects.
"In Germany, they are the ones who have a lot of money," she said.
For now, these Germans — like their U.S. colleagues — tend to be unwilling to part with it. With the right research, that could change.