N400 correlate of brand associations
A number of neuromarketing studies employed brain responses called event-related potentials or ERPs as neural markers of brand associations. The use of the N400 component of ERPs in particular appeared to be the promising to study typicality of product-brand associations and their role for brand extension (Wang et al., 2012).
The question, however, remains whether the N400 observed in the product-brand associations and brand associations as such can be explained by the same neurobiological mechanisms as the classical N400 response which in the neuroscience of language reflects semantic associations. In this electroencephalographic study, we compared semantic N400 in response to incongruency of sentence endings with the neural response to the degree of incongruency of associations to brands.
To test, whether in the same subjects, incongruent brand associations would elicit the N400 brain response resembling semantic N400 we constructed two-word phrases in which brand names were proceeded by congruent or incongruent adjectives that played the role of brand associations. Sentences lacking any marketing context served as control stimuli and evoked classical centro-parietally distributed N400 response.
The sensitivity of the brain activity to the incongruent brand associations was manifested in the fronto-centrally distributed N400 response within the same time window as in the non-marketing context. However, the correlation analysis of the N400 amplitudes in the brand and non-brand conditions did not reveal significant association between them suggesting different neuronal networks subserving processing of pure semantic and brand-association incongruences. To conclude, further studies employing multichannel EEG or magnetoencephalographic imaging would be necessary to elucidate the brain origin of brand and marketing associations as compared to pure semantic associations.