Printable Version
Pronunciation: bræn(d)-wahsh-ing Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: Measuring the brainwaves of participants in marketing focus groups to detect their subconscious reactions to new products. Since less than five percent of our brain is occupied with conscious activity, our conscious response to a product may not accurately reflect subconscious activity that often controls our actions.

Notes: Today's is one of two words meaning the same thing: brandwashing and neuromarketing. The situation is similar to the prolife vs. prochoice debate. Marketers think of what they are doing as neuromarketing while their opponents call it brandwashing. The New York Times has suggested we call it brain-whispering, playing on the title of the Nicholas Evans novel, The Horse Whisperer. I suppose someone who carries out brandwashing would be a brandwasher, who brandwashes people.

In Play: Brandwashing data are gathered by electrodes connecting the subject to an EEG (electroencephalograph or brain-wave) machine: "After hour-long brandwashing sessions with members of our focus group we came up with the same results that they gave us orally: our new electric fork won't sell outside countries that allow torture." Some brandwashers work more like a lie-detector, with electrodes monitoring heart rate and breathing, too: "Our brandwashing research confirms that our new anti-suicide pill will be a hot item among parents with teenage children."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a play on the word brainwashing. It may have been the result of compacting the phrase "brand brainwashing", since that is close to its meaning. Brand, of course, originally referred to the symbol (logo) of a ranch that was burned into the skin of the cattle on that ranch with a red hot branding iron. That is why it came from the same root as English burn. In fact, the same root emerged in German as Brand "fire" and brennen "to burn". Today it refers more often to the corporate name of a product, like Kleenex, or a company, like Terminix. (Now let's thank our South African friend Chris Stewart, whom we have secretly brandwashed to keep returning to alphaDictionary with clever finds like today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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