SUMMARY: How does emotionally powerful programming impact advertising? The A&E Network wanted to learn in greater depth and detail than ever before how viewers perceived the commercials that aired during the emotionally powerful and highly-rated Intervention series. They turned to NeuroFocus to provide the answers, drawn from the deep subconscious level of the brain.
The A&E Network has been one of cable television’s biggest success stories, growing in primetime for five straight years in the key demographics Adults 18–49 and Adults 25–54. Since 2003, it has risen by a whopping 109% in Adults 18–49 and by 67% in Adults 25–54. Last year, the network adopted the new 'Real life. Drama.' tagline, and climbed to its best-ever annual rankings in the ad-supported cable network universe—#6 in Adults 18–49 and #5 in Adults 25–54.
|What effect did the emotional content have on viewers’ perceptions of sponsors’ spots...|
True to life
Television rarely gets any more real or dramatic than with A&E’s #1 hit, Intervention, which delivers 2.0 million total viewers, 1.4 million Adults 18–49 and 1.3 million Adults 25–54 viewers each week. Intervention is a powerful and gripping series in which people confront their personal crises and seek a route to redemption. Its audience has grown considerably since its 2005 launch, rising 54% among total viewers and by even greater margins in the younger Adults 18–49 (+74%) and Adults 25–54 (+63%) demographics. In addition, the show has just received its second consecutive Emmy nomination as Outstanding Reality Series.
But ratings success and critical acclaim aside, A&E wanted to know something even more fundamental about the show and its millions of fans; specifically, what effect did the strongly emotional content of the series have on viewers’ perceptions of sponsors’ spots within the show?
Traditional surveys and focus groups have provided some degree of insight into its fan base, who describe the program with a strongly positive array of attributes such as 'emotionally involving,' 'realistic,' 'dramatic,' and 'engaging'. But when it comes to plumbing the depths of their actual feelings and perceptions, conventional research methodologies can produce ambiguous or misleading results.
The reason for that is both simple, and amazingly complex. It has to do with how our brains are structured and how they function. Modern neuroscience has gained tremendous knowledge about the brain and has shed remarkable new light on this most amazing-of-all organs.
|When the brain is asked to recall an experience, it actually alters the original reaction...|
Research results from some of the world’s leading neuroscience laboratories have shown that when the brain is asked to recall an experience, it actually alters the original reaction it first formed as it prepares the answer. So asking viewers to articulate how they felt and what they remembered about the show, and the commercials in it, produces answers that are fundamentally unreliable—because the brain changes the original data it recorded in the process of preparing its reply.
Pure and genuine response
A&E Network wanted to know if there was a scientifically-sound, proven way to delve into the source where the original, authentic, accurate information is first registered and reacted to: the deep subconscious level of the mind. They turned to NeuroFocus to measure viewers’ responses directly at that level.
Discover core truths
A&E Network and NeuroFocus designed a study that would uncover and distill findings about two fundamental issues:
NeuroFocus measures actual brainwave activity as it occurs, deploying high-density arrays of electroencephalography (EEG) sensors across as many as 128 separate sectors of the brain. This full-brain coverage captures data at 2,000 times a second from each sensor, producing billions of data points that provide clients with unprecedented depths of information and insight into three primary NeuroMetrics, focusing on consumers’:
Three more critical metrics are derived from those:
In addition to these six scores, the results from the primary NeuroMetrics are combined to formulate one Overall Effectiveness measurement.
Comparing content and commercials with the competition
For an even fuller understanding of the effects that program content has on advertising, the study was expanded to include a popular and highly-rated primetime dramatic program on another network. The same commercials that aired in Intervention were inserted into the pods within that show, to enable a head-to-head comparison of viewers’ subconscious responses to the content and the advertising within each program.
Six spots were tested, covering categories including automotive, food, insurance, personal care, retail, and telecommunications. In addition to the commercials, the shows themselves were tested to determine viewers’ brainwave and biometric reactions to the program content.
|Emotional engagement is an essential precursor to purchase or viewing intent...|
A&E and NeuroFocus elected to concentrate the research on viewers’ emotional engagement with the program content and the commercials that ran within it. Given Intervention’s powerful content, this NeuroMetric would have the most meaning and value to the network and its advertisers. It is especially relevant because neuroscience has shown that emotional engagement is an essential precursor to and can be predictive of purchase or viewing intent.
Dr. A.K. Pradeep, CEO of NeuroFocus, commented, “When the viewer feels an emotional connection to a program, or a commercial, the brain is more likely to retain that experience in the form of memory. That chain of neurological reactions—those responses formed within the deep subconscious level of the mind—are the precursors, the reliable indicators, of purchase or viewing intent.”
Neurological testing of viewers’ subconscious responses to both the Intervention program itself, and the six commercials shown within it, revealed that not only is there no negative rub-off for advertisers who place spots in this powerfully emotional programming—there are clear and unequivocal benefits as described below:
Overall Effectiveness: Intervention scored notably higher than the competitive drama. The Intervention score also remained at this consistently high level throughout, while the competitive drama declined in the second half
Emotional Engagement: Intervention won handily in this category
Overall Effectiveness: Three of the six commercials scored significantly higher in Intervention than in the competitive drama. The other three scored essentially the same in both programs.
Emotional Engagement: Intervention scored highest in each of the six advertising categories.
|The advertising benefited from viewers’ strong emotional connection...|
Viewers were highly engaged by Intervention and this level of engagement was sustained throughout the program; ad placement in later segments of the show suffered no drop-off in overall effectiveness. Intervention also scored the same or higher in more individual NeuroMetric categories than the competitive drama.
In the specific, critical category of emotional engagement, the priming effect of the programming content on the commercials became clear. The advertising benefited from viewers’ strong emotional connection with and reaction to this powerful, compelling show.
Because neurological testing probes the deep subconscious mind for this data, advertisers can rely on these findings with complete confidence. The results of this study provide scientific evidence that when a company decides to advertise in reality programming that contains the kind of powerful and gripping content that Intervention features, there is no automatic downside to that choice. Instead, there is an opportunity to engage viewers’ subconscious minds in equally, and often even more powerful and gripping ways.