I have always been a science freak. Not ‘doctor Nuts’, but a huge enthusiast of any new path of human evolution enlightened and ‘designed’ with the help of applied sciences. My scientific profile of degrees is totally un-linear. From Cultural anthropology to biological anthropology, then communication sciences and semiotics and after this marketing theory, transiting through cognitive sciences and paving the way to consumer and business anthropology building my social and behavioral sciences applied to business goal.
In my doctorate thesis I used cognitive neuroscience theory and biological anthropology to understand the human obsession for body pattern that builds fashion markets. The understanding of brain patterns formatted from thousand years by the intersection between nature and culture fascinated me and helped me to understand the preference for skinny unhealthy bodies when the primitive male desire was think as for the ‘fat hips’ representing maternity and female health[i].
Then, in 2006, I discovered the group Cognitio, a think tank of cognitive sciences studies based on University of São Paulo, (where I did my PhD and teach nowadays). It was a multidisciplinary field of study constituted by neurology, linguistics, neuroscience, physics, philosophy among others areas and developed a brilliant work understanding the brain constitution that generates cognition. A book was released about their research, called “O sitio da mente”, (the mind site), and I used it as a support on my academic and business researches.
The cognitive neuroscience, which is having so much hype about it, is a part of the hole cognitive science where stimulus and emotions can be reading by the use of technological instruments, letting neurologists understand what creates god, bad and other categories of ‘feelings’, sensations that are now being used by the marketing to measure the acceptance of products and reactions to them.
I’m an enthusiast of this new possibility, as I have being using cognitive sciences in my researches for almost 10 years, beginning with the theoretical approach and then discovering empiric uses. But the point is that, like any the possibility coming from science, just as ethnography was years ago, is being less understood than it should be and overestimated viewed as a magic that solves all consumers understanding for business. Of course, for decades we all have been thrilled about the possibility of ‘reading’ the consumers mind, and now it seems that we are able to do it. Really? Let’s take a closer look about it.
When the mind scans gives us the human emotions generated from products and brand stimulus, it gives us reactions to elements perceived by the consumer. As I said in the last post, it gives us ‘what’, and not the ‘why’ markets needs in order to establish strategies based on knowledge about the elements researched - emotions, drivers of engagements, choice behavior - necessary to understand how can they design these elements strategically for their brands and products. Ok, an image of a physically disabled kid completing a marathon generates emotions of compassion, overcome, and greatness. For everyone, really? The use of physically disabled kids on a commercial yes, can generate emotions in all of us, but depending on which are the values of the sample, this compassion feelings can generates rejection, like a bad image about the brand - viewed as using a kid disability for gaining money - or even the feeling of an admired brand linking with something that ‘puts her down’ among reactionary sports lovers that believes that there are physically privileged people who are ‘better’ and ‘deserves better’ than others, that’s why they succeed (as seen on an anthropological research I developed for a sports brand about the relationship between people and sports a couple years ago, so I discovered a ‘sports consumer clusters’ with the characteristics above), so, the same image, or other kind of stimulus, can generate different perceptions and then interpretations about an image or ad campaign if we don’t acknowledge the ‘cosmology’ of social, behavioral, historical and cultural influences on the consumers perceptions, reactions and behavior.
Also, if the sample is not really divided according to the consumers clustering segmentations (like lifestyle, product use background, life’s phase, what demographic divisions only are not capable of build for modern markets), so the perception and reaction an graduated USA young consumer will have about Nike brand exposure will be completely different of the reaction an Rwanda teenager will have about it. The point is that perception, according to neuroscience theory is created not only by inner emotional conditions, but also by cultural and historical repertoire that ‘formats’ perceptions and generates reactions.
Nilsen Neurofocus, the Nielsen subsidiary that combines EEG readings of brain activity with insights from other branches of the audience measurement, tested the response to online advertising on Millenials, pointed the influence of digital media on ‘re-shaping’ teenagers brains, but also pointed to other sociological factors that marketers should be aware of. For example, like all young people, Millennials rely more heavily on each other for validation of their brand and product choices. It found that 68 percent won’t make a major decision without running it through their network first, and 85 percent said that user-generated content had some influence on what they purchased, especially larger purchases, showing how sociological influences also contribute, in the end, for their consumer choice and behavior, and that for an research accurate result, multidisciplinarity is a necessary methodological strategy .
I really believe that the adequate use of cognitive neuroscience articulated with other disciplines can really enhance the possibilities of consumer research to develop products and strategies. But, as other sciences use for the marketing, it has to be used seriously and focused. I had an opportunity of using it in study of women in the XXI century for a cosmetic brand associated with anthropology and semiotics, and the results were great, a wonderful field of human behavior study which now we can associate with other scientific tools to create business success.
Valeria Brandini, PhD.
Business Anthropologist , Writer, Lecturer and Co-founder of
Nucleo Xamã (Consumer Science Applied to Business)