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Marketing BBC Branded Content

Neuroscience and 'baked in' brand safety: how BBC Global News pitches its content arm


By Rebecca Stewart | Trends Editor

October 12, 2018 | 5 min read

Storyworks – BBC Global News’ branded content arm – has proven a link between emotion and long-term memory; a finding it claims will drive value for clients.

“Tapping into the secret of long-term memory is hugely powerful for telling brand stories,” explained Hamish McPharlin, head of insight at BBC Global News. “If we can create content that will be encoded into a consumers long-term memory the more likely they are to recall that brand when they’re looking to buy.”

BBC Global News believes it has found the key to unlocking this secret: emotions. It recently commissioned a research report, dubbed The Science of Memory, which found a direct correlation between emotion-stirring content and longevity of memory.

StoryWorks is using the learnings gleaned to “help make brand stories more memorable”, at the same time adding to the analytics arsenal it offers clients.

The science of storytelling

During the research, BBC Global News showed six branded films (from companies like Mini and Korean Air) to over 2,000 people in the USA, Germany, Australia and Singapore.

The BBC's commercial entity already has a sophisticated facial tracking tool called The Science of Engagement (SoE) which enables it to assess the emotional impact of content it creates for brands. For the Science of Memory study, it combined this with a topography method developed by neuroscience specialists, Neuro-Insight, to capture electrical activity in the brains of respondents. This allowed researchers to map, second-by-second, the emotional state, degree of emotional intensity, and level of long-term memory encoding in respondents.

The test found that all kinds of emotions (happiness, curiosity, fear etc) were key in driving people’s long-term memories of both the content and the brand. It also found that there was no such thing as ‘bad’ emotion when triggering a long-term memory – all that mattered was the intensity of the emotion being experienced.

BBC Global news also found that brand films which set the emotional stakes early (ie in the first or third duration) ultimately delivered stronger memories of the overall content.

Researchers said the quantity of ‘emotional peaks’ in a branded film was also important. Content that provided numerous moments of emotional intensity throughout delivered a higher memory impact, they noted.

Finally, the experiment established that emotion often precedes a memory being formed – meaning a sudden spike of emotional intensity in a branded film causes a person’s ability to store that information to rise shortly afterwards. It’s these very moments, the BBC argued, that brands should be integrating their messaging into.

McPharlin explained: “The timing of getting this right has huge implications for making a brand message land.”

These learnings about the relationship between emotions and memory will be baked into StoryWorks’ existing SoE emotion tacking tool. This means that beyond analysis of the emotional impact of branded content campaigns, BBC Global News advertisers will now be able to access insight into the ‘memory impact’ of a piece of branded content that can inform future campaigns.

One piece of content BBC tested for car marque Mini, which had been developed to invoke several emotional spikes throughout, showed a 34% uptick in consideration for the brand, McPharlin said during BBC Global News’ IAB digital upfront event on Wednesday.

The video in question showed Mini’s art director Jacinda Leong discussing the process of filming. Memory encoding reached its peak when she said design was a “destination, not a journey” – then Mini used this window of opportunity to showcase its product.

McPharlin noted: “With these new findings we’re able to add another level to our [emotional tracking] SoE tool. We can now also understand the memory impact of our content and we think that is a really powerful thing.” He added that his division was only just “scratching the surface” of how science underpins effective brand storytelling.

Brand safe ‘before it was even a thing’

BBC Global News it the British broadcaster’s commercially-funded 24-hour English news platform. Across the 200 territories it airs in, the network has a weekly global audience of 95 million people – more than all the BBC’s domestic channels combined.

Online, it has over 100 million unique browsers each month. It can’t host branded owned-digital branded content in the UK where all BBC properties are TV licence-payer funded, but it can run it on social and clients’ own properties.

The Storyworks arm has teams in seven cities including London, New York and Singapore.

When the dedicated division was launched in 2015 it was pitched as a buy that could bring together the qualities of a creative studio with the agility, an engaged audience and timeliness of a newsroom, drawing on the BBC’s own editorial and production values.

Now, amid concerns of ad misplacement on less-premium, more UGC-focused platforms like YouTube, BBC Global News has clearly an opportunity to position StoryWorks’ 40-strong team as something that can deliver brand safety too.

“People everywhere trust us,” BBC Global News chief executive Jim Egan told a room full of agency execs at the same IAB event.

“Brand safety is baked into the BBC, we were doing it years before anyone even called it brand safety. Editorial trust and commercial trust go hand-in-hand.”

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