Advertising is one of the newest areas to which neuroscience
research has been applied, but its potential impact on the marketing of brands can
be immense, says a report by Nielsen NeuroFocus president Joe Willke and senior
VP of client service Blake Burrus.
The Nielsen execs say ad compression is only one application
of consumer neuroscience, but it's one that can offer considerable rewards to
"We've always known a significant part of advertising spend
is wasted," the report states. "Now, neuroscience can identify the exact
moments in an ad that activate memory, draw attention or prompt an emotional
response, and determine on a second-by-second basis which parts are and are not
effective in engaging viewers."
By including only the most effective elements in their ads,
marketers can attain significant savings by "shortening their length while also
maintaining or improving their overall impact." Traditional 30-second
commercials can be cut to 20-, 15- or even 10-second spots in a way that maintains
or even increases their impact.
The report discusses how electroencephalography (EEG) works
in measuring brain activity. The EEG provides detailed measurement of both
conscious processing and what lies beneath it. "From the millions of pieces of
information that bombard our senses, EEG can pick out three key metrics:
(1) whether a viewer's memory is being activated; (2) when and how far people's
attention is engaged; and (3) whether the viewer is drawn emotionally towards
or leans away from a stimulus. These three metrics can then be combined into an
overall gauge of how effectively a viewer is being engaged."
In order for EEG measurements to be used effectively in
advertising, the report says, two more things needed to happen. "The
first was systemization of the clinical measurement process at a scale that
could accommodate the needs of large companies in a timely as well as cost-effective
fashion. The second was the harnessing of computing capacity sufficient to
analyze 18,000 data points per second, or over half a million in a typical
The report says the operational capabilities of large
companies solved the first criterion, while the arrival of Big Data has solved
the second one.
Today, the report adds, the technique has been "successfully
industrialized," and "the early days during which consumer neuroscience
was a matter of inspired start-ups strapping equipment to test subjects are
largely over." The work is now done by highly-trained lab technicians following
strict and more sophisticated protocols.
How does the process work? The EEG readouts identify the
more and less effective portions of commercials as the viewer watches. With the
highlights and lowlights identified, a rough edit of a 30-second spot trims it
to 10 to 15 seconds. Clients then work with the scientists to ensure that the
key message is not lost and that the story line remains intact. The resulting
spot is then returned to the agency creative team to make sure it is coherent
and flows well.
The end product is a 15-second "scientifically compressed"
commercial that testing has shown to be as or more effective, for which the
marketer will pay significantly less than the longer original spot to run on a
broadcast or cable network.
The report says the scientifically compressed ads result in
more viewer emotional engagement, memory engagement and required less attention
on the viewers' part to process the commercials than the original longer ads.
Neuroscience doesn't only work for marketers, but also can
be used by TV networks in their promotional efforts. The report uses an example
of how neuroscience analysis helped CBS tailor the right promotional spots for
the right viewers for its drama The Good Wife.
The network made two promo spots for the series. One, designed
to appeal to current viewers, previewed a romantic relationship between the
lead character Alicia Florrick and one of her colleagues. A second spot,
designed to attract non-viewers, previewed an episode in which Florrick asks a
convicted murderer for his help and in return, he asks for his freedom.
Neuroscientific analysis found that the first spot actually
performed better among non-viewers than the second spot, even though the second
spot was designed for them and the first one was not.
What the EEG readouts found was that non-viewers of the show
had difficulty understanding the first five to 10 seconds of the "prison" spot
and the emotional score was low.
In response to the findings, CBS aired the shortened first
spot, but held back the second spot.
"Not all ads can be told in as little as 10 or
15 seconds," Willke and Burrus state, "but our experience suggests that about
90% can. Almost always, then the precision offered by EEG analysis can
significantly lower the required investment for an advertising campaign without
any loss of effectiveness. Often, it improves it. The prize can be massive. The
biggest consumer goods companies might free up millions of dollars in annual ad
spent on current campaigns by applying this technology. And the networks can
only benefit if the advertising they air is more powerful. Everyone wins."