Creating an emotional response with content makes advertising more effective. While some marketers and publishers have long suspected this, consumer publishing giant Bauer Media has backed new neurological research to prove it.
For as long as there has been a media industry, we've never really known what makes advertising work. How does a message go from the advert on a screen or a page, to a consumer's brain and then to a purchasing decision?
Feeling the Heat of emotional responses
Bauer's celebrity weekly magazine Heat was chosen as the test brand for the research, carried out by Neuro-Insight, which may be used elsewhere in the company. The fieldwork involved strapping sci-fi-looking headgear gizmos to 180 women aged 18-34 as they flicked through copies of Heat, browsed the Heatworld website and watched and listened to its radio and TV spinoffs, monitoring their brain activity.
This kind of thing has been done before but the Heat project is unique in that it compares and contrasts print, online, radio and TV.
The research findings were quite striking - here are just a few of the takeaways:
Firstly, we can identify the areas of the brain that elicit responses to different kinds of content. These are the factors and brain areas that were tracked in the study:
So emotional response can be seen and measured. Which means you can gauge how emotionally active someone is while viewing particular advertising campaigns (this research tracked five specific campaigns) against editorial content. The blue dot in this chart is the response to Heat magazine's adverts:
This matters greatly because the greater the emotional response, the more likely people are to remember the details. This, says Neuro-Insight, is why we can all remember where we were when 9/11 happened - a huge emotional reaction, which happens in the right side of the brain, implants sights, sounds and smells deep into long-term memory encoding parts on both sides of the brain.
The same rules apply when it comes to advertising. The context in which someone experiences messages about brands, products and offers - and the stronger the emotional response - the more likely they are to use that information when buying things.
Marketers are very focused on brand recall and the ability for people to remember a brand campaign... but as Neuro-Insight's Heather Andrews puts it:
"Subconsciously we store information about products and recall it later. If it doesn't go into memory, people don't act on it later"
The explosion of online entertainment content designed simply to make people laugh doesn't seem, in this context, all that daft.
Media with consistent branding is more effective than many brands
It turns out there's a stronger neurological response to advertising when it's within a consistent branded environment - such as Heat magazine and Heat radio - than if it was two competing, rival brands.
Neuro-Insight tested the brain response to various similar rival brands (it isn't saying who) vs Heat's multiplatform offer. This is part of Bauer's pitch to media buyers to encourage them to go for the multiplatform buy rather than just the magazine.
Heather Andrews argues that:
"The context in which people see advertising has a strong effect on how people react to it. If we see something in a branded context and it's familiar to us, it's like a gateway has opened that allows the memory to pass through a bit more easily."
This somewhat dispels the idea that publishers are losing their role as trusted places for brands to advertise and that - in an era of programmatic and real-time bidding - you can place your ad anywhere and get the same response. Context is everything.
This doesn't mean publishers can effortlessly compete on scale and effectiveness, however, when coming up against Facebook. But here is a good example of what makes professional, branded content different.
So this is Heat's pitch to the advertising buying community, a way to get renewed interest in its multiplatform offer. At the same time, the Heat team are touring the agencies to bring this message to them, even offering a TV celebrity to man their phones during a "Heat Happy Hour".
At the same time, however, Bauer has illustrated that through following and measuring consumers' emotional repsonses, we can get closer to understanding why and how a positive content experience can make advertising more effective.