Neural mechanisms of being sold: Understanding marketing persuasion by multivariate pattern analysis of the fMRI signal
Persuasion is a crucial part of marketing. A large amount of research has been devoted to understanding the mechanisms of persuasion, and how they can be applied in the realm of marketing. For example, a few pertinent questions are: How do consumers form knowledge and opinions about brands and products in real time as they watch a TV commercial? How do they react differently to marketing information before versus after consumption? How do we know whether a message is persuasive or not?
Understanding the psychological mechanism of persuasion poses methodological questions, as conventional methods such as questionnaire or think-aloud approach either interfere or lag the process. While neuroimaging technologies promise an unbiased way of observing mental activities, it is until recently that these methods were applied in consumer psychology. A rapidly expanding body of neuroscience research on consumer decision-making has identified several brain areas involved in brand recognition, implicit valuation, and product preference. Neural activities at specific sites, such as temporal poles and prefrontal cortex, are found to associate with the persuasiveness of marketing message (Falk, Rameson, et al., 2010). Perhaps more importantly, studies have shown that brain responses to persuasive messages, namely activation level at medial prefrontal cortex, can be used to predict behavioral change in future (Falk, Berkman, Mann, Harrison, & Lieberman, 2010).
Building on these successes, more recent methodological advances in analyzing neuroimaging data open new possibilities to achieving deeper understanding of complex mental phenomena. Multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) looks beyond single-voxel activation and focuses on locating activation patterns in a subset of voxels. As such, it is potentially more sensitive in detecting neural activities and their statistical associations with (or predictive power of) explicit measures, such as self-report emotional states or brand perceptions.
Specifically speaking, three MVPA techniques are potentially useful in marketing research:
(a) Pattern classification: Using machine learning algorithms, neuroimaging data can be used to classify complex mental states and capture their moment-by-moment changes as individuals respond to dynamic stimuli such as movies and commercials.
(b) Representational similarity: Individual-level similarity in brain response patterns to different brands and products may reveal their implicit associations with desirable (e.g. cool, trustworthy) or undesirable (e.g. boring, unreliable) features.
(c) Inter-subject correlation: Group-level similarity in brain response patterns, for example synchronized temporal neural changes across individuals during video-watching, has been shown to be a sign of a captivating experience that draws attention.
This project aims at using these advanced statistical methods to analyze neuroimaging data collected in various contexts of persuasion. Three studies are proposed:
How do consumers respond to enticement? In this study, individuals will review a series of online news headlines culled from tabloid websites that are better known as ‘click baits’. By comparing their brain responses to those with traditional factual headlines, we expect to locate brain areas involved in curiosity, and examine the predictive power of activations in those areas in relation to real-world commercial success (in terms of page views).
How do consumers resist or accept persuasion? In this study, individuals will review a series of marketing information (in the form of printed and audio materials), some of which contain overt flattery directed at the customer. We are motivated to examine how people process and perceive marketing information; past studies show conflicting behavioral results, some documenting subconscious resistance to persuasion while other finding subconscious embrace of it. We expect to reveal neural mechanisms that predict resistance or acceptance of marketing tactics in customers.
How do consumers process persuasion with prior experience? In this study, individuals will both receive marketing information and try the actual products. We want to know how consumers react to marketing information that sets the expectation when the consumption experience is congruent (i.e. lives up to the expectation) or incongruent (i.e. fails to deliver) with the accompanying marketing information, thus identifying neural mechanism of disappointment.
- persuasion; consumer experience; multivariate pattern analysis; functional magnetic resonance imaging
- Time frame
- 2014 -
H.Y. Chan, M.A.S. Boksem & A. Smidts (2018). Neural profiling of brands: Mapping brand image in consumers' brains with visual templates. Journal of Marketing Research, online. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jmr.17.0019
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