The [Ad]vantage: The Real Brand DNA

Kirk DrummondFinally, scientists have identified the human brand-preference gene. The discovery radically changes marketers' approach to demographics, bringing campaign targeting to near 100 percent accuracy. Okay, not really. But this may not be as far off as you might think.

Certainly technology's role has grown significantly over the years, providing us with enormous amounts of data, which we can analyze in millions of ways. We also have things like target demographics, campaign strategies and market-research reports. These sound very scientific. Although important, most of this data merely serves as a guide for making what is ultimately an educated guess.

Let's do a little science experiment - we'll call it market research.

What if I were to ask you what your favorite color is and why? Or why you're a conservative or liberal? (Certainly a hot topic this year.) No doubt you would be able to provide an answer about your favorite color being the same as your childhood bedroom or favorite shirt at the time. Or how your political view aligns with one party or the other based on your values. But why?

Now what if I ask why you prefer a Mac or PC? Or maybe why you prefer the styles and brands of clothing you wear? Is it the computer's value, reliability and power? Is it the clothing designer's materials, fit and color choice? Anyone out there want to say your answers are genetic? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Back in 1990 the Human Genome Project ( was launched to tackle the monumental task of identifying approximately 25,000 genes that make up human DNA. Once identified, scientists would then analyze the sequences, store the information, develop tools to aid in scientific study, and ultimately transfer the knowledge to the private sector (that's government-speak for you and me).

Most people have come to know DNA thanks to crime-time television shows such as CSI or Law & Order where bad guys are routinely nabbed thanks to DNA evidence left at the crime scene (DOH!). The Human Genome Project is about much more than using DNA as evidence and the results of the project are nothing less than astonishing - identifying certain genes or genetic signatures that may be linked to specific cancers, Alzheimer's and heart disease, providing the possibility of cures or early treatments - a noble initiative to say the least. But there's more to this story.

Hidden inside what scientists often refer to as "junk DNA" (sort of like how the blueprints for that crazy teleportation machine were hidden inside sound waves in the movie Contact) are genes that initially seemed to be "nonfunctional" but may actually contain links between a person's genetics and the tendency to be a conservative or liberal, or even the likelihood he or she will respect monogamy. These findings hint that a person's values, preferences, possibly even emotions, may have a genetic connection.

So what does this have to do with advertising? Experienced marketers and brand visionaries understand the power of emotion when it comes to creating brand connections and customer loyalty. Steve Jobs is a master at this and, as a result, few brands have the fanatical fan base Apple enjoys. So what would happen if it became possible to genetically map one's preferences - to gain insight into what you like and why, beyond the logical?

Sound crazy? Probably. But interesting things happen when you combine scientific insight and capitalism. Case in point: Political scientists have been looking into genetic connections to a person's political views for years, even publishing findings claiming between 40 percent and 50 percent of a person's political orientation is genetic. As you might have guessed, there's been a lot of debate over the validity of these findings.

So what's next in a world where advertising and genetics collide? Targeting strategies based on DNA? Junk-mail filters based on gene numbers 3923809? Not likely, as concerns about privacy will always be an important factor, and rightfully so, but it's interesting to think about nonetheless. After all, e-mailing someone across the globe in seconds would have sounded far-fetched in 1967.

Who's to say that 15 or 20 years down the road we won't see genetics influencing our industry and decision-making? This way parents will know if their newborn would prefer the red hoodie from the Gap or the button-up from J.Crew.

Kirk Drummond is co-founder of Drumroll Media, an interactive agency creating innovative brand experiences and strategies. (

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