This Is Your Brain Responding To Ads

August 28th, 2017 | ACA Team, Association of Canadian Advertisers

Can you prime a consumer’s brain to be more receptive to advertising?

Silhouette of back of person's head looking at TV screen with static

At a recent ACA webinar, Shauna Houlton, Consumer Insights Director at Corus, presented the company’s latest findings from a deep dive into consumers’ minds. The media co. undertook a study in partnership with Toronto’s Brainsights, a neuromarketing firm, to better understand the role each media element plays in the brain and just what makes an ad effective.

Using headbands that measure surface-level brain activities, the media company showed one of its 30-minute DIY programs to 200 consumers. (While that might seem a small number, a PhD study requires only 20 participants).

They measured participants across three categories: memory encoding, or how well the brain remembers information; connections, or whether people connect with the ad on some level; and attention – did they register an ad was playing. (This was compared against Brainsight’s proprietary rating system, which averages out results across all its brand studies).
This is where it gets really interesting:

  1. The study found, consistently and across multiple different types of commercials – from home to automotive spots – that ads that highlighted product features and benefits out-performed those that didn’t. It makes sense, Houlton said, considering the show was a DIY reno series and audiences are likely primed to be thinking about products in terms of their usefulness to a project.

    Comedy ads didn’t work as well on the home reno channel, she added – unless the comedy specifically emphasized features and benefits of a product. For example, audiences were much more receptive to the comedy in an ad featuring a puppy having a faceoff with a Swiffer Wetjet over its ability to clean up muddy paw prints than they were to another commercial featuring a preening, talking, self-involved flamingo.

  2. Interestingly, consumers’ attention to features and benefits extended to branded content and in-show placement as well: a branded content spot featuring host Bryan and Sarah Baeumler bantering in a Lowe’s store about a variety of outdoor products begins strong (people saw the show’s hosts and were primed to pay attention), but began to fall flat when the pair simply named the products. Connection and encoding spiked again when they discussed a specific feature on a barbecue.
  3. Finally, Corus found that certain ads become more effective over time. For example, bumper or billboard ads (ads before a show’s start announcing the sponsorship) saw increased attention scores with each successive viewing. Houlton theorizes that the bumper acts as a trigger to the audience that they should start paying attention, which makes prepares them to take in the information.

But no one ad format out-performed others. In fact, they tended to be most effective when used in conjunction with other types of spots. So, while a bumper was an effective attention grabber and memory builder, it didn’t connect emotionally with consumers in the way branded content or an in-show placement did, which in turn didn’t do as great of a job in grabbing attention or memory encoding. Instead, Houlton said, they work better together.

ACA members can learn more by visiting our Webinars archive and downloading the video recording and slides from Corus’ Media Elements Study.