Where Will Neuroscience Make Its Greatest Contribution to Advertising?

At the recent Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) Re:THINK 2011 conference, ARF reported the results of its study of nine different suppliers’ tests of the same commercials. All nine suppliers utilized their own approach to the measurement of involuntary psychophysiological response to stimuli.

Later that day, two other suppliers who had decided against participation were probably patting themselves on the back for staying out of the study. Why? Because the report had the result of (slightly) dialing back what had been the industry’s excitement about these new tools. The general picture painted was: (1) there is still a lot of work to be done; (2) at least some of the suppliers had not done their homework to become better informed about the test campaigns themselves; and (3) counter to expectation, these practitioners in general appeared to be less rather than more scientific than the existing state of the art in copy testing.

The folks at ARF certainly didn’t set out to pour cold water – they went into this with high enthusiasm about the promise of neuroscience for advertising. What happened?

Perhaps the problem was that the ARF, in order to gain cooperation, promised not to identify the pros/cons of individual suppliers. This protocol had worked well for the Council on Research Excellence (CRE) in their study of set top box (STB) data/analysis suppliers last year, which probably would not have gained enough cooperation to go forward otherwise.

Now the learning experience for industry leadership is that composite supplier descriptions/evaluations is a technique that must be carefully adapted on a case-by- case basis. In fact, the key difference between the two studies is that CRE did not cross the line from description into evaluation, whereas ARF did cross that line.

Possibly this was because the STB data analysis companies were willing to disclose techniques more so than were the neuroscientists. Perhaps ARF felt there would be nothing to report without evaluation, since in-depth technique description was not available. (Although I know of one supplier than provided 40 pages of such documentation.)

Today’s blog posting is motivated by the desire to see no slowdown in the development of the neuroscience field for the advertising industry and in general. Some years ago we did some advertising neuroscience of our own in company with Dr. Richard Davidson, today one of the most respected and quoted neuroscientists in the world, and Dr. Daniel Goleman, best known for his best-selling book series on emotional intelligence, a term he coined. That work convinced this writer that neuroscience can be of great value in advertising and media.

For example, in the research Drs. Richardson, Goleman and I conducted, we succeeded in using neuroscience to solve a conundrum that had baffled a leading drug company for years:

One of their big-spending TV over-the-counter brands had run a commercial years earlier that rang the bell so strongly there was no denying it had caused a substantial sales increase. For years, the agency tried to replicate the results with new commercials but never succeeded.

Neuroscience, however, was able to identify why the commercial was so effective, with such clarity that the agency was able to create a new commercial nearly as sales effective as its progenitor.

This case study is instructive in terms of how to derive greatest value from neuroscience in the context of advertising: instead of using biometrics to evaluate the power of a commercial, we used it to dissect the reason for a commercial’s power.

In other words, we used neuroscience diagnostically rather than evaluatively.

Instead of trying to answer the question “How well does it work?” we set out to answer a different question, “how (or why) does it work?”

Which is not to say that neuroscience cannot be used both ways, just that it’s possible the greatest increase in knowledge might come diagnostically. This is at least something worth looking into.

In the case just described, part of how the commercial worked is that it created the brain signature of the pain state in the viewer. By then segueing to a shot of the product package and the use of the product ending with a pain-free actor, the commercial ended with removal of the pain signature in the viewer’s brain.

Hence the viewer when next in the real pain state would subconsciously remember the product that removed the pain state. Classic problem-solution at the involuntary level rather than at the rational level.

So what is the generalizable clue? The concept of brain signatures for more complex states.

What if we as an industry are able to become aware of the brain signatures of brand gratitude, brand affinity, persuasion, purchase intent – signatures that can be validated against the same person’s change in brand purchase behavior?

What if we can also learn the brain signatures of specific blocks to a commercial’s success, such as lack of comprehension, disbelief, and distrust?

Neuroscience commercial testers are using the concept of brain signatures, but many seem to be stopping at purely evaluative signatures such as attention, arousal, and approach/avoidance, rather than the more complex diagnostic signatures suggested above, which tell more about why a commercial is or is not working.

In the interest of perhaps making a modest contribution to industry knowledge, and to  supplement ARF’s composite report, we will provide a venue in upcoming blog postings for any interested neuro (and non-neuro) copy testers to communicate their validation work, which we will present with individual supplier identification and our own editorial commentary.

 

Briefly Observed News in the Media

  • On April 4, in an interview regarding Libya on Fox News, Dr. Henry Kissinger enunciated his recommended policy for US intervention in such situations. Because US resources are not infinite and are already overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, he proposed that the US only become involved in other countries that meet both of the following two criteria:

    • Humanitarian concerns e.g. people being killed by their own government
    • US national strategic interests
  • On April 5, the media reported that because of the situation in Japan, it is being considered that the evacuation zone for the Indian Point Nuclear Power facility in case of an emergency be expanded from ten miles to fifty miles – which would mean the necessity of evacuating New York City. (Need I say more?)
  • Also April 5, it was reported that Muammar Gaddafi is considering a deal to step down. Miraculously, he reached out to Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon, one American he trusted (we have written about the importance of trust before), who flew into Libya to meet with Gaddafi. Weldon is the American that Gaddafi had spent more time with than any other American. I have heard it said that one person does not matter, but obviously that is not always the case. In the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

 

Best to all,

Bill

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