Cortical relief and the first-choice brand effect

The following excerpt is taken from the excellent ‘Decoded: The Science Behind Why We Buy’ by Phil Barden:

“In a study into the neural bases of decision making, German neuroeconomist `Professor Peter Kenning and his associates looked at brain scans of people who had been shown photographs of pairs of brands. These photos either included the person’s stated favourite brand or did not. Every time they were shown one of the photographs, each person was told to choose a brand to buy. There were two main findings. First, when a favourite brand was included, the brain areas activated were different to when two non-favourite brands were exposed. When the favourite brand was present the choice was made instantly and, correspondingly, the brain showed significantly less activity in areas involved in reflective thinking, an effect the scientists named ‘cortical relief’. Instead, brain regions involved in intuitive decision making were activated (in particular the so-called ventro-medial prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobe). In other words, strong brands have a real effect in the brain, and this effect is to enable intuitive and rapid decision making without thinking.

Secondly, this cortical relief effect occurs only for the respondent’s number one brand – even the brand ranked second does not trigger this intuitive decision making. The scientists call this the ‘first-choice brand effect’. One target we set as marketers is to be in our target consumer’s relevant, or consideration, set. This research indicates that the optimal target is to maximise the number of consumers for whom we are the number one brand – being in the relevant set is not sufficient to enable this intuitive decision making and, of course, no revenue is earned by the brand that was nearly bought!”

Hey. I’m Alex Murrell. I'm a Planner at Epoch Design in Bristol where I help deliver highly creative, innovative and effective pack, instore and online communications for some of the world’s biggest FMCG brands. Want to know more? You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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