SuperBowl Ad Engagement Measured By Brain Scan

by Marianne Richmond on February 8, 2006

There were two messages that came accross loud and clear at the recent WOMMA Conference regarding new marketing versus old marketing : the consumer is in control of the information and advertisers are there to provide the means to the information; this means that advertising should engage, not disrupt, intrude, or "break through" the clutter.

There has been much discussion regarding the portfolio of advertising presented at the SuperBowl and many different opinions offered as to the effectiveness of the various ads. Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles’s Ahmanson Lovelace Brain Mapping Center and FKF Applied Research used brain-scan images of people watching the advertising during Superbowl XL. They tracked the ads by measuring "activity in key parts of the brain areas that are known to be involved in wanting choosing, sexual arousal, fear, indecision, and reward" and then provided their results in terms of engagement: most engaging, middle of the road, and least engaging. The brain images are on-line for your viewing pleasure.

Their press release mentions that their sample was a group of "male and female SuperBowl viewers in their 20s and 30s chosen to represent typical audience viewers of the SuperBowl." Obviously, this has to be taken into consideration when interpreting their findings.

The "Most Engaging Ads" according to the scans were Sierra Mist, "Airport Security"  and the Disney "NFL Dreamers" spot although this was engaging only on the first showing. The "Middle of the Road Ads" were Bud Light’s "Employee Incentive Plan" and Cadillac’s "Catwalk". The "Least Engaging" ads were "Aleve with Leonard Nemoy, " Burger King "Whopperettes," Budweiser’s  "Junior Clydesdale," and Career Builder’s "Chimps Celebrate."

Dr. Joshua Freedman, UCLA Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and co-founder of FKF Applied Research notes that one of the advantages of brain scanning versus more traditional kinds of ad research such as focus groups, interviews and polls is that with brain scans the viewer’s emotional response is measured without relying on their interpretation of their reaction and without the influence of other’s responses or questions.

Other interesting results of the brain study were the contrast between the results at SuperBowl Ads.Com and the scans. For instance, FedEx Caveman placed #1 in the poll while failing to show activity in the emtional centers of the brain. The Dove "Real Beauty" ad which has been described as tugging at the heart strings did not show significant engagement in the emotional centers of the brain.

So…if the results of the brain scans indicate that none of these spots were engaging, what’s an advertiser to do at the Superbowl? All those consumers dressed up, but where do we go?

Manfred Marek summarizes some recent studies that incorporate neuroscience into the discussion of engagement in advertising. Scott MacDonald of Conde Nast presented a paper at the 2005 Worldwide Readership Symposium which looked at consumer’s relationship to magazine and television advertising. He said that with televsion, engagement with program content leads to
increased advertising resistance. Can we hypothesize perhaps that the more engaged the consumer is with the game, the less engaged they will be with the advertising?

Marek mentioned another study by Starcom which indicated that the most "time-shifted"   TV
viewing happens during the most highly rated shows. Again, the message is the more involved the consumer is with the content, the less involved they will be with advertising that interrupts the content. Hence, the increase in product placement makes sense.

Viacoms Brand Solutions (VBS)  conducted research using MRI brains scans of TV viewers and found according to Marek  "that advertising content that is relevant
to the programme environment in which it appears is more likely to
stimulate brain activity in areas of the brain commonly associated with
advertising effectiveness…But the survey also shows that programme content
primarily activates the part of the brain that deals with absorption,
indicating that viewers lose themselves in the programme. But as soon
as the commercial break starts, viewers re-engage with their
surroundings – memory and decision-making faculties take over again."

A couple of possible conclusions: Superbowl advertising might be more engaging to the viewer if it was relevant to football. Remember Mean Joe Green? Maybe it was so mega-engaging because it was about football!  US Today lists 10 Rules to Make Ads Magical that I think make some excellent points…one more might be engage with the programming.

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