How brand names trigger our emotions
Hundreds, if not thousands, of brand names have become highly familiar to us as they form part of our everyday life, thanks to widespread marketing and advertising. We may like to believe we can “tune them out,” or at least remain uninfluenced by them, but research has now confirmed that brand names affect us differently than other words, connecting with the “emotional” right side of the brain.
Right-brain involvement in brand name processing was recognized as far back as 1977, when Herbert E. Krugman, manager of corporate public opinion research at General Electric, wrote his essay “Memory Without Recall, Exposure Without Perception.” He theorized that the mere repetition of product brand names sticks in our subconscious due to the right brain locking in on an advertising image. The more rational left brain, which makes conscious comparisons, judgments and rejections, need not be involved for advertising to “do its job,” Krugman argues.
By 2004, Richard Woods wrote in the Journal of Consumer Behavior, “It has become a truism that brand marketing is in the business of selling emotional connections rather than product benefits.”
Old language theories told us that all words are processed in language centers in the left hemisphere. But neuroscience studies show that words from different categories use different sets of brain cells, and modern imaging studies prove that several additional areas are involved in language, including the right brain.
It was previously assumed that brand names are processed like other nouns (object names), and they were not given special attention in research. But then the psychologist Possidonia Gontijo of UCLA set out to explore the way language contributes to brand success in the marketplace. She attempted to discover whether brand names fall into a separate word category.
Brand names are unique in that they are consistently shown in the same way, with specific fonts, cases and colors. In Gontijo’s tests, this type of word was recognized more easily in the left visual field than were other nouns. The left visual field connects to the right side of the brain, which deals with emotions.
Further work by Gontijo on the speed of word recognition suggests that brand names really are in a category of their own. Brand names hold a “distinct categorical status,” she reported, and the recognition process uses special strategies. She explains that, as reading is a very recent phenomenon in human history, the brain uses its existing machinery to set up special categories of words.
Gontijo’s colleague Eran Zaidel added, “It is surprising that the rules which apply to word recognition in general do not necessarily apply here, and brand names have a special neurological status.”