Consumerism: Faith in material objects of desire

If there is one religion that unites the human race it is ‘Consumerism’, a faith so powerful that just about everyone wants to follow it by showing of their latest acquisitions and evangelising them.

When Neuroscientists ran a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test on an Apple fanatic they discovered that images of the company’s products stimulated the same parts of the brain as a deity might for the religious- while some evangelists of Apple might read the Bible on the ipad, worship of an acquired object is a worrying phenomena.

Certainly the objective of the marketing industry is to sell us (the consumer) as much as possible, but it is up to us to consider whether emotional attachment to material object are appropriate, and what our motivations are for acquiring them.

Also if we were to take emphasis off the desire for material possessions what would we replace it with? And what mattered to people before such objects of desire were available? Moreover perhaps the accumulation of these products and creating the means to acquire them takes time and effort away from living life, forming emotional attachments with other people, trusting people rather than products or simply taking the time to enjoy the many natural pleasures that are freely available to us?

It is easy to pick on Apple, the worlds number one company for evangelising their products to the point that ‘Appleism’ has become the faith of choice for many. This period in time may be looked back upon in history as the troublesome early years of the 21st century. With this in mind perhaps it is important to understand the price of having everything before we are able to see the value in nothing, or certainly less than many of us have now.

Philosophising aside, it is important to recognise that many successful brands (but not all) are intent on controlling consumer preferences, below is a bit of background on the latest thinking in consumer marketing:

Of up and coming interest is the science fiction film ‘Branded’ (screening from 7th September 2012) which puts forward a dystopian future where corporate brands control, influence and stimulate consumption through a sophisticated means of mind control channelled through codes incorporated into everyday products.

While ‘Branded’ may be a work of science fiction, the use of neuromarketing is science fact.  While the benefits of this are bordering on sinister for the consumer, the ability to have such a powerful influence is very exciting from the corporate brand point of view.

For brands, profits lie in accurately determining the consumer’s purchasing needs and the influences behind their decision. Indeed, neuroscientists commonly estimate that 95% of decision-making is sub-conscious activity and while economics may have created the need for brands to literally ‘look inside the head’ of the consumer, it is the neuroscientist and not the economist who is working at the cutting-edge of future consumer understanding.

To give a bit of background Neuromarketing is the nexus of science, marketing and economics, enabling scientists to evaluate neural activity as subjects view ads and interact with products via technologies such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) and Steady State Topography (SST).

Neuromarketing can enable brands to navigate the mind-set of the consumer in order to gain their attention and overcome the continuous ‘partial attention syndrome’ that has arisen from today’s culture for hyper-connectivity which has made it difficult for brands to be recognised against the backdrop of advertising noise.

For brands marketing to the so-called ‘Generation Z’ (born from the early to mid-1990s), this consumer group presents a particular problem. Gen Z, also known as Generation ‘I’, are the first generation of digital natives. Indeed, research shows that social media and online gaming may have contributed to changes both in brain structure and function. According to Dr. A Prandeep, author of the neuromarketing book ‘The Buying Brain’, social media feeds the consumers’ desire for recognition. Moreover, game play is proven by neuroscientists to increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine; a chemical that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. Dopamine also encourages people to take more risks and make impulse purchasing decisions.

Brands Ted Baker and Sony tap into the benefits of dopamine by getting customers involved in campaigns and tapping into their need to feel acknowledged and important. Earlier this year, Sony created a highly sensory environment to market its new Xperia Play phone which also utilised the benefits of gameplay.

Microsoft is tracking brain activity to gauge the effectiveness of its advertising campaigns on the Xbox platform. Working with Mediabrands and Emsense, the company tracked breathing rate, heart rate and body temperature in order to gain an insight into how stimulated the brain was. The results showed a significant rise in effectiveness over more traditional brand metrics and proved that the Xbox live ads delivered a 90% brand recall rate compared with 78% for the TV campaign.

Microsoft has recently patented technology that can recognize the users emotional state based on facial expressions, speech patterns and body movement using data collected over devices such as smartphones, laptops, PCs, and gaming consoles.