What Brands are Doing to Our Brains?

Brands activating our left angular gyrus, left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex  or left orbitofrontal gyrus, ie systems  in our brain that are associated with the extraction of meaning, conceptual organization,  reward, etc could be  common topics in the  daily agenda of branding managers of  high-value brands in our  times.
Neurosciences have entered in a close engagement with marketing in search of the Holly Gray of Branding: finding  and controlling  our Buy  Button in the deep of our vast brain ocean with billions of connections.
But where are the ethical boundaries of such initiatives like  Neuromarketing and Brain Branding? Paradoxically, and contrary to what is believed by naïve observers and writers , in the last  decades the more the brands were growing  and flourishing the less  is the level of  human happiness and human satisfaction, in steady decline in the western world (see Easterlin Paradox).  We are not all aware but we are  living in the era of Branded…  Unhappiness, as I had analyzed in my  book Nice Capitalism. As Tim Kasser’s  (The High Price of Materialism) research shows, those who place a higher value on acquiring material goods  and brands, aren’t as happy as their less materialistic counterparts. He further provides evidence that such a behavior leads to low satisfaction, personality disorders and even antisocial behavior. And are the brands today that,
through advertising, are imposing our Value System  and Lifestyle.  But what is even more worrying is that brands , through overstimulation, invasion and manipulative techniques, could lead  individuals to  the dark sphere of depression. Depression will be the second larger killer after heart disease by 2020 and a contributor to coronary disease. Almost 15% of the population suffers severe depression  in the western world (more than 20 million Americans). Further on, it appears now  more and more in  the youth and not only in those around 40 years old. The mechanism that describes the secret path to depression in  our branded world is described in detailed in my book and is graphically presented in the illustration above (click to enlarge). As a scientist  with a long experience in marketing, I strongly believe that branding  should exist for the mutual  good of the individual and the business. And that good, ultimately, is to improve human satisfaction and human happiness and well – being. Those brands that are investing in the exploration of the ocean of  our brain connections should  return back to their true  and legal mission. In the opposite case the society has to  re – evaluate  their license to operate. What’s your opinion? Do you share the view that branding should have certain moral boundaries? Let’s start the discussion. 

About Costas Kataras

Futurist,Strategist,Speaker; Author of "Nice Capitalism" ;Purveyor of the "Nice Way" strategy, for a sustainable future for Brands,Corporations and Society. http://www.costaskataras.org
This entry was posted in Ethics, Forward Thinking, Happiness and Well-Being, Nice Brands. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What Brands are Doing to Our Brains?

  1. : says:

    Below copy of the comment from a LinkedIn friend:

    I agree with your premise — that brand marketing can undermine general levels of happiness by using triggers like fear, uncertainty and doubt to stimulate buying desire, promoting dissatisfaction with the status quo. That's an incredibly common approach. But it's not integral to a brand or branding activity, per se; it's simply a result of specific communication tactics in pursuit of demand generation.

    Does Bono's “brand” (to pick one) or a non-profit's (like, say, the Red Cross) promote unhappiness by raising awareness of humanitarian needs? Maybe.

    You raise an intriguing question and yes, I'd agree there are (and should be) ethical boundaries to how we deploy our neurolinguistic and psychological knowledge in pursuit of commerce.

    Here's a link to an interesting TED talk by Dan Gilbert which illustrates how generally helpless our brains can be while grappling with basic economic decisions in our “pursuit of happiness”:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_researches_happiness.html
    Posted by Greg Salerno

  2. : says:

    Below copy of the comment from a LinkedIn friend:

    This article provides an interesting paradox, I think, but one that will continue to feel a bit “fuzzy” to members of the marketing/advertising community. We've always used resources beyond our own instincts to find the precise “trigger” (for lack of a better term) that will establish a firm connection between a brand and its audience. To a degree, those resources are applied through a more scientific or analytical framework. I guess the question on the proverbial floor is “how much precision too much?” I agree, there are some lines that should not be crossed…

    And while I get that the materialistic folks may prove to be less happy than those who are living carefree lives, couldn't that be more attributed to the degree of burden that each group faces? The more you have, the more you worry about.

    Indeed advertising plays a part in motivating a materialistic person—but that part is a bit smaller, or less influential than we might think. We'd be making a leap to lay the doctrine of materialism on the feet of advertising/marketing. Consumerism is a part of our societal DNA. Advertising/Marketing exists to influence choice within the consumer, but the true motivation—especially to the point where he/she becomes materialistic— usually comes from some other “trigger” altogether.
    Posted by Moshé Simpson

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