Neuroscience sheds light on media effectiveness

Rather than relying on survey data, the research – commissioned by News Works and conducted by neuromarketing company Neuro-Insight Australia – utilised brain-imaging technology to gather a detailed picture of New Zealanders’ responses to advertising.

Marketing and research consultant Jacqueline Farman, who worked with News Works to develop the study, is excited about the use of neuroscience to study the effectiveness of campaigns, as it “takes subjectivity out of the equation”.

“All we’re doing is exposing people to content and advertising and measuring what happens in their brain,” she explained. “It’s as close as we can get to a pure understanding of how communication is working in the brain.”

In the New Zealand study, more than 100 participants of varying demographics were shown a range of newspaper and TV campaigns. Using sensors fitted onto lycra caps, the technology shows how different parts of the brain ‘light up’, depending on how the information is being processed.

“They measured the ability of advertising communications to cut through and get into long-term memory,” explains Farman, “as well as the intensity of emotion that people feel, and their level of attention when they’re exposed to advertising content.”

Building on research conducted in the United Kingdom, the researchers hypothesised that because newspapers require a higher level of attention than television, people would process information differently than they would while being entertained.

The results showed that participants were far more likely to store advertisements in their long-term memory if they saw them both in a newspaper and on television.

Farman explained that “the highly complementary nature of the two mediums captured a strong priming effect. This means that advertising is much more likely to be filed into consumer’s long-term memory. Higher levels of memory encoding have been validated to drive greater ad effectiveness. This, in turn, means that in the future, consumers are more likely to remember, and act on advertising, when deciding to buy a product or use a service.”

For example, when a television ad was viewed before the newspaper advertising, the ability of the ad to kickstart long-term memory encoding increased by 26 per cent.

If the campaign’s creative was integrated across both channels, the likelihood of it being stored in long-term memory increased by 37 percent.

“Being across multiple media improves the effectiveness of all of your content, regardless of whether it’s an integrated campaign or not. When you integrate the campaign, that effectiveness shoots up,” explains Farman.

With 40 years of research experience behind him, professor Richard Silberstein, who chairs Neuro Insight Australia, explains that neuroscience is able to help marketers understand how ad placements influence future behaviour – often in subtle ways. 

“People don’t remember every single experience they’ve ever had in their entire life,” Silberstein said. “The brain knows what is important for you and then it stores it.”

“Memory encoding has been validated to drive sales and behaviour change so it’s a very important measure in terms of determining effectiveness,” he said. 

The study was able to indicate when memories were being stored, and whether these involved a high level of detail, or recorded the big picture eg brand or soundtrack. 

“This experiment allowed us to understand what impact that context had based on how well people tended to process, remember and how affected they were by that communication.”

News Works CEO Brian Hill says that other frequently used methods such as surveys carry some risk because“some people wouldn’t necessarily know that something’s registered or struck a chord with them”. 

He cites the example of Cadbury’s famous advertisement in which the audience saw a gorilla play a drum solo. This performed poorly when tested with surveys, yet was effective at increasing sales and brand favourability.

Hill explains that neuroscience was able to fill this knowledge gap and reveal what worked about the ad, by providing a second-by-second account showing which parts evoked emotion or were most strongly committed to people’s long term memory.

“The people watching the ad might not have even realised that they’d formed the connection and stored a long-term memory, it might just spring into the mind at a point in the future when they’re buying confectionery.”

Hill added that what we saw with the newspaper, was that the audience was very active and that carried through to the advertising because people are fully engaged when they are reading them.”

“When it really matters, when you need to do something detailed or complex, when you want something to really stick in memory, then newspapers should be part of the media mix,” Hill said. 

Hill says that so far, the response to the research has been very positive, with marketers keen to understand how they can apply neuroscience insights to improve their media and creative planning.

“In order to [plan]strategically, you’ve got to understand what role each of the media play and how the different context influences how people engage with the media and process what they experience,” Hill said.

As has been the case overseas, he hopes that the data will “encourage debate about how as an industry we can improve our planning of media, through techniques such as neuroscience”.

This story is part of a content partnership between News Works and StopPress.

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