Insights

It’s not Rocket Science, but it is Neuroscience
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It’s not Rocket Science, but it is Neuroscience

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I know the advertising industry is acutely aware of the need to achieve cut through. We are bombarded with thousands of visual advertising cues every day; Australians see an average of 120 TV ads per day! So it is baffling how few agencies are taking advantage of the opportunity to know – not guess – how their concepts will fare in the real world.

Agencies need to start considering how they can manage the effectiveness of their ad through measuring responses. This goes beyond consumer testing; 95% of our decision-making is made subconsciously, so effectiveness of an ad cannot be measured by consumers saying they like it. There are specific and undeniable reactions to cues that creatives have to be aware of.

10 best practices observed:

1. Repetition is not as useful as you think
Repetition has been beaten into us, over and over, as a great way to commit things to memory. Repetition can however lead to ‘repetition blindness’. We often observe that engagement declines when something is repeated too many times. The brain says ‘I get it’. Now I’m bored.

2. Face it! The brain loves faces
Humans crave connection, so it isn’t surprising that the human brain reacts positively to faces in advertising. The human visual system is hard-wired for face processing – the Fusiform Face Area – and this area is activated equally strongly by both human and dog faces. In fact, happy dogs routinely outscore cats in the context of pet food advertising!

3. Don’t cut your nose off to spite your face
In fact, don’t cut off heads at all! This applies for legs and arms too. We have observed an automatic loss of engagement as soon as we see a figure’s back instead of their face, or it is cut off in the shot. Don’t waste an opportunity for the audience to engage with a human face

4. Don’t fight for your audience’s attention
Layered communication creates confusion rather than engagement. We see high attention, and low emotion, where too much information is included in a frame; it only serves to confuse and distract your captive audience. Keep the imagery simple and the call to action clear – this is your branding moment; don’t waste it by dragging attention in opposite directions. The call to action should always be the clearest part of the ad.

5. Match audio to text – Multisensory integration
Advances in sensory neuroscience have indicated that processing is more efficient and powerful when inputs from different modalities (aural, visual etc) are complimentary and not competing. In layman’s terms, you need to make sure that what the audience is reading/seeing and hearing matches completely, or you will lose the moment to engage them with a call to action. 

6. Right is wrong!
The human brain processes images much easier if they sit on the left and text on the right – it is as simple as that. Most ads tested have a higher effectiveness score when the image was moved to the left and text to the right. This is because the left visual field is directly projected to the right hemisphere and vice versa.

7. Don’t evoke the fight or flight response
We have an innate and automatic response to all images that jump out at us; do we fight it or fly? Either way, this response is not one you want your audience to associate with your brand or product, so avoid any images that leap out toward the viewer.

8. Social interactions
As I mentioned earlier, humans are constantly looking for ways to connect with others, and it is no different in advertising. This is particularly relevant for women; we have observed that women react much more positively to images of groups than of people on their own.

9. Monkey see, monkey do
We are hardwired to understand things better when we are shown how they work. Show someone drinking and our brain mimics that behaviour. Such moments tend to outperform, or engage more, than simply showing the product.

10. From the source
‘Direct from the source’ has been used hundreds of times in food and drink advertising and with good reason. We engage strongly with depictions of the natural source of a product. Such imagery has been successfully used to visualise the origins; think images of lemons for lemonade.


These rules are just a few that should be employed when testing and optimising your ads. Remember: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.


These insights were presented live on stage at Nielsen’s Consumer 360 conference (July 31 – Aug 1, Fairmont Resort, Blue Mountains). The presentation focused on how good science supported by sound research can help you get a better bang for your creative and advertising dollar. What can research tell us about the way we build an ad? When should we add a tagline? What visual or audio inputs distract from connection – and what tactics really help someone to remember the ad. And once we’ve done that – how do you  generate maximum returns from each campaign?