By Max Clarke

In the current BBC3 Series, “Secrets of the Superbrands”, presenter Alex Riley and his team interviewed Professor Gemma Calvert, a neuroscientist and MD of Neurosense while she scanned the brain of a self-confessed Apple brand fan.

Using a machine that is able to look inside the brain, the programme makers wanted to find out whether there was something specifically going on in the brain when the fan, another Alex, saw images of Apple products.

What Professor Calvert found may help to explain how the big superbrands are able to build such a fanatical following. The Neurosense team found that when Alex, who loves and works with the brand , viewed images of Apple products compared to competitor products or unbranded mobile phones, laptops, desktops and tablets, activity was seen in the same brain areas that respond to religious icons. It seems therefore, that the awe-inspiring nature of some of these new brands actually instills some form of religious feelings and emotions in people like Alex.

Professor Calvert said “The case study on our Apple fan is part of a larger brain imaging study that Neurosense has carried out on high profile superbrands. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or FMRI in short, to scan people who either held strong religious beliefs, were fanatical about sports or did not fulfil either criteria.

"First, we identified brain areas participating in the experience of religious belief by comparing the brain activity generated when these individuals viewed images of religious leaders (e.g. Mother Theresa, the Pope) or objects (churches, rosary beads, crosses), compared to sporting heroes (e.g. David Beckham, Lewis Hamilton), and images (the FA cup, the Olympic rings). The brain areas which were activated to a greater extent when the religious images were viewed included areas involved in meaning and memory, attention and decision making and an area important for self-representation, emotional associations and reward. Interestingly, many of these same areas were also activated by our sporting fanatics when they viewed sporting images — albeit to a lesser extent. Our non-spiritual and non-sporting control group did not show any differences in brain activity when viewing any of these religious or sporting images compared to looking at postcards.

Next, all our respondents were scanned while viewing images and logos associated with the big superbrands (e.g. Apple, Rolex, BMW, Coca Cola) or when viewing brands which have developed negative connotations in consumer’s minds. Intriguingly, as with our Apple fanatic filmed for the BBC, our sample of respondents all activated a similar pattern of brain response when good brands were compared to bad, as that seen when religious believers viewed religious images, or when sports fanatics viewed their sporting heroes. Of course, Alex is an extreme case of brand fanatic — and what we see is that his activation to images of the Apple brand produces the same brain images that our group study picked up in response to religious or sporting images and the leading global superbrands.”

Professor Calvert continued “Developers of new and existing brands are already taking these findings into account and are using specialists like ourselves to measure just how well their attempts are succeeding to manufacture a sense of awe into their products before they are launched. With as many as 8 out of 10 new products failing the cost of failure for a global brand is enormous if it gets it wrong.”

It’s not difficult to see why more and more companies are using neuromarketing to help them with the design, marketing and sales of their services and products.