Branding with Neuromarketing: Past, Present, & Future

By: Chad Bell
As the majority of purchasing behavior is found to be subconscious, the field of neuromarketing attempts to understand reactions of our brains to brand stimuli. One of the major factors behind its attractiveness is the idea that traditional marketing research may not be fully reliable in determining consumer motivations. Instead of relying on traditional methods of data gathering through verbal responses by consumers, neuromarketing seeks to blend the research techniques of neuroscience to the practical implications of consumer marketing. Using methods such as fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), SST (Steady State Topography), Eye Tracking, and Galvanic Skin Response, scientists hope to establish more concrete connections between brain responses and buyer behavior.


In an independent follow-up to the Pepsi Challenge, fMRI scans showed responses of people who preferred Pepsi to be five times stronger in the ventral putamen (a reward center of the brain). However, when subjects were given the brand that belongs to each taste test, Coke won not only in popularity, but also in triggering the medial prefrontal cortex. Highlighting a part of the brain that represents thinking, judging, and sense of self, these findings bring generally accepted ideas of purchasing motivations to a physiological level.

Other research using brain scanning compares brand selection to Google’s site ranking system. Findings indicate that consumers undergo a 3-step process in making choices between brands. Consistent with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, brand favorability is dependent on the stimulation of the brain’s reward centers and associations with biological and cultural goals. Following the strength of these associations is consistency of brand promise in fulfilling consumer needs. Lastly, a high level of consumer interaction is critical, as brand retrieval proliferates its connections and establishes preference for the brain.



In an attempt to boost its condensed soup sales by 2% over the next two years (from 2010), Campbell Soup Co. implemented a new branding strategy based on studies of skin-moisture level, heart rate, breathing pattern, posture, eye movement, and pupil width. A positive correlation was found to exist between the variety of soups offered and decision to purchase. Findings also indicated that the size and color of the old logo overpowered the other aspects of labeling that should be used to command focus on the soups themselves. Subsequently, Campbell established 4 color-coded categories and altered the size and placement of its logo to command more attention.

Companies such as Microsoft, Frito-Lay, Google, Daimler, and The Weather Channel are also supplementing research initiatives with neuromarketing. Topics of interest include:

  1. Emotional reactions of user interactions with computers
  2. Guilt vs. healthy associations of snacks to women
  3. Effectiveness of various methods of advertising on YouTube
  4. Stimulation of the brain’s reward center
  5. Viewer responses to promotional communications

Leading neuromarketing firm, NeuroFocus, strives to establish means of proper brand positioning by applying brain stimuli research to traditional branding inquiries such as attribute awareness, meaning, theme associations, and endorsement potential. One of its endeavors involved magazine publication, New Scientist. Electroencephalographic (EEG) measurements of subject responses to 3 different magazine covers, suggested a cover that ultimately gained a 12% increase over the previous year in newsstand sales. More recently, NeuroFocus took a retrospective approach to analyzing market responses to the new Gap logo by identifying 6 violations of what the firm considers to be best practices. According to CEO Dr. A.K. Pradeep, issues including overlays, sharp edges, fonts, contrast, semantics, and legacy status, led to the new logo’s undesirable position in consumer minds – away from its original statement of style.


Recently, the Advertising Research Foundation has launched an initiative to establish common practices and standards of neuromarketing. Firms are invited to submit works to be peer reviewed and ultimately used to determine standards of measuring consumer reactions to brands and advertising. While skeptics will likely continue to challenge the idea of combining neuroscience research with marketing goals, neuromarketing will undoubtedly function to inspire innovative thought and techniques to understanding consumer behavior.

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