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Five-year neuroscience study shows brands should stop going for the ‘hard sell’ in TV ads

Brands that subtly weave a product they are trying to sell into a wider narrative stand a better chance of consumers recalling it later, a five-year neuroscience study has found. In fact, ‘subtle’ advertising resulted in a 17 per cent higher memory encoding response than those that went for the hard sell.

It will come as welcome news to marketers as the shift from product led to increasingly brand-led advertising continues.

The Thinkbox-backed research saw 150 adverts each coded against over 50 different creative factors to then identify which correlated with long-term memory encoding (LTME) and people’s decision-making and future behaviour.

As well as overtly selling of products, people were also less likely to remember an ad if it emphasised hard facts and scientific information. By contrast, content featuring live filming of real people, emotion and humour performed far better, with memory encoding levels on average around 15 per cent higher.

Greater diversity in advertising and reflecting modern-day society is an ongoing issue in advertising but one which is being tackled both brand and agency-side. While neither the ethnicity of characters in TV ads nor the portrayal of women in ‘traditional’ or ‘non-traditional’ female roles makes a difference to memory encoding response, the research did find that the viewing audience’s subconscious is enlightened.

This finding, researchers argued, underlines that there is no reason for creative agencies to be cautious or conservative when casting and scripting ads.

And when it comes to what characters in ads should be doing, those featuring a high level of human interaction – such as conversation or affection – elicited memory encoding responses 10 per cent higher than those with a low level.

Interestingly, famous faces had little impact on brain response at end branding. However, if the call to action in the ad was delivered by a celebrity, viewers showed 13 per cent higher levels of memory encoding for that particular bit of the ad.

Matt Hill, Thinkbox’s research and planning director said: “There is no recipe for success in TV advertising. But what this fascinating study by Neuro-Insight shows is that there are lessons to be learned from how the brain reacts to different creative approaches. It provides some good rules of thumb to bear in mind for increasing the likelihood of ads being remembered for the long-term.”

Commissioned by Thinkbox and led by market research firm Neuro-Insight, the bank of insights into how people interact with ads was build up through some 50 different studies over a five-year period and involved several thousand people.

Jennifer Faull

The Drum senior reporter Jen Faull provides news and insight on the latest developments in retail and FMCG.

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