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Oxytocin Forms Attachments to Products, Building Customer Loyalty

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Loyalty. It is among the most valued traits in our friends and also what brands strive to create with customers. Businesses have tried everything possible to build loyalty and new research by Immersion Neuroscience's Founders, Dr. Paul J. Zak and Dr. Jorge A. Barraza shows how attachment to brands actually occurs in the brain.


In the early 2000s, the laboratory of Professor Paul J. Zak showed that the neurochemical oxytocin is the foundation for moral behaviors like trustworthiness and generosity. They then went on to develop protocols to measure and manipulate this neurochemical. Oxytocin motivates people to cooperate with strangers by increasing empathy for them. Dr. Zak's lab also showed that movies, advertisements, and TED talks can cause the brain to release oxytocin and make these experiences enjoyable and memorable. His most recent research examined if oxytocin could cause people to form attachments to inanimate objects like consumer products.


When emotional resonance is sufficiently high, the brain is nudged out of homeostasis, its baseline state, and into decision mode. (5)


In a study published in the leading scientific journal PLoS ONE, Zak's team administered synthetic oxytocin or placebo to study participants and then exposed them to various products. Those who received oxytocin rated the products as having higher quality, used warm language when describing them, and paid more to buy the products during the experiment. Neurologic immersion is largely driven by the brain's release of oxytocin, so these effects are measurable by brand managers using the Immersion platform. 


This is the first time that scientists have shown that oxytocin forms attachments not just to people, but to products. One of the most important findings is that people will pay more for those products for which they have formed an emotional attachment. This demonstrates that customer loyalty generates a positive return on investment. 


When emotional resonance is sufficiently high, the brain is nudged out of homeostasis, its baseline state, and into decision mode. (7)


Brand managers can use these findings to build brand loyalty by creating emotionally-compelling experiences for their products. These experiences cause the brain to become neurologically immersed in the experience, forming pleasant memories about the brand and establishing a loyal customer base. These experiences can occur in stores, while watching advertisements, and when using the product. Emotional attachment, facilitated by oxytocin, is what builds loyalty.


Citation: Barraza, J.A., Hu, Xinbu, Terris, E.T., Wang, C., and Zak, P.J. Oxytocin Increases Perceived Competence and Social-Emotional Engagement with Brands. PLoS ONE, 2021.

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