Brands Pick Consumers' Brains — and Scan Them

Brain scanning is being used to help predict how shoppers will respond to products and shopping environments.

View Slideshow

It’s scientific marketing.

Brain scanning is being used to help predict how shoppers will respond to products and shopping environments. And firms ranging from teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch Co. to The Walt Disney Co. want to encourage the impulse to purchase, partly by stimulating the senses through smells, sound and light.

The pressures of the recession and reduced consumer spending are spurring more companies to turn to techniques such as sensory marketing and neuromarketing, which measures the brain’s responses to common experiences, like touching a soft, new piece of clothing or shopping for a luxury handbag.

The testing and use of neuromarketing has roughly doubled this year, compared with 2008, among the world’s 100 biggest brands, said consultant Martin Lindstrom, the author of “Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy” (Doubleday, 2008).

“For good or for worse, neuromarketing has spread,” Lindstrom said. “Between 20 and 25 percent of the biggest brands are using it; a year ago, it was 10 to 12 percent.”

Brain scanning equipment is being applied to identify what stimulates craving, status seeking and other responses. Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. are among the big players who have used the process, Lindstrom said.

The cost of collecting and mining brain activity has fallen by half since 2007, to about $50,000 to obtain and analyze the subconscious desires of 30 to 50 people.

These approaches to motivate shoppers also are being prompted by instant communication via tweet, blog, text message or e-mail blast, which can result in a new movie or a product being branded a failure within hours of its appearance.

“We live in a 24-hour cocktail party right now,” said Richard Laermer, president of RLM public relations. “The minute you do something people don’t think is right, people will be tweeting about it.”

Concerned about remaining attractive to wealthy customers without appearing over-the-top, a major luxury brand is using neuromarketing to position a new line of handbags, Lindstrom said. The brand, which he declined to identify, is using EEG’s to monitor brain activity as people shop two of the firm’s stores in Europe and a third one in the U.S. MRIs are being tapped to identify what makes a certain bag a must-have — what is it that tickles the brain’s parietal lobe, making a person feel superior to others?

“This is the first time I’m aware of that we’ll being seeing this kind of data on shopping in a luxury environment,” Lindstrom said of people who donned caps with inputs, enabling battery-powered devices to track their brain waves as they shopped. “How do you show luxury without showing too much luxury?”

View Slideshow
Page:  Next »
load comments


Sign in using your Facebook or Twitter account, or simply type your comment below as a guest by entering your email and name. Your email address will not be shared. Please note that WWD reserves the right to remove profane, distasteful or otherwise inappropriate language.
News from WWD

Sign upSign up for WWD and FN newsletters to receive daily headlines, breaking news alerts and weekly industry wrap-ups.

getIsArchiveOnly= hasAccess=false hasArchiveAccess=false