Ad Space in Your Brain: Neurological Study Shows Why Ad Context Matters


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NeuroFocus, a neuromarketing company owned by The Nielsen Company, has released the results of a study they conducted recently about the effectiveness of advertising in various contexts.

The study (PDF) was intended to examine a variety of so-called “premium web site experiences.” As such, NeuroFocus tested the New York Times homepage, Yahoo’s non-personalized homepage, and a Facebook news feed. The selections are intended to represent a hardcore news/commentary site, a light news/entertainment site, and a social media site. The study measured customer response according to three metrics: attention, emotional engagement, and memory retention. The second part of the study gauged users’ responses to the same advertisement in three contexts: TV, a corporate site, and a Facebook brand page.

Among the study’s most notable findings are that the New York Times, Facebook, and Yahoo tend to be much more engaging than the average website. Unsurprisingly, users respond differently to different websites. The New York Times, for example, scored highest on memory retention, while Facebook scored highest on emotional engagement. Yahoo was in the middle of the pack on emotional engagement, and lowest on memory activation. Also unsurprisingly, the study found that consumers’ responses to ads varies significantly based on medium. The Facebook brand page, for example, elicited a higher degree of emotional engagement than the same ad on a corporate website or on television.

In contrast to the more traditional self-reporting methods employed by studies of this kind, the NeuroFocus study gathered its data by measuring the brainwaves of participants. In the first study subjects were shown a series of images in random order: their own Facebook page, a generic but recent New York Times homepage, and a generic but recent Yahoo home page. For the second study a new group of subjects were divided into three groups. One group saw their own Facebook page, one a recent generic New York Times pages, and one a recent generic Yahoo page. Each page included a typically-placed advertisement. Participants watched as the ad was clicked on, and were taken to either the Facebook product page (in the Facebook group) or the corporate home page (in the other two groups).

The company compared the results of this study to data from a prior study comparing ads on TV to those on Facebook and elsewhere on the web, which showed that the Facebook ad scored higher in emotional engagement and attention than TV, and higher in overall effectiveness than either TV or elsewhere on the web.

NeuroFocus CEO Dr. A. K. Pradeep emphasized the value of the study for understanding the role of users’ subconscious minds in their response to advertising in a variety of media. This understanding will, he said, allow advertisers to make better decisions regarding where and how best to advertise their products.

What do you think? Do you find you respond better to ads in different contexts? Does the concept of neuromarketing creep you out? Let us know in the comments.