What our brains tell us about the best ads
The latest studies reveal that web users are in a different mindset depending on the site they visit. So, Twitter commissioned neuroscience research to investigate how marketers can optimise their advertising to take advantage
Martyn U’ren is head of research in the APAC region for Twitter.
His job is to sift through the endless reams of data generated by the social media giant’s 330 million users worldwide to work out not just the types of people using the platform, but how they interact with it and why.
More taxingly, he then has to use that information to deduce how marketers can optimise their ads accordingly.
At first, it all seemed so simple: social media users, so common thinking went, are younger and more impatient. They like their content short and surprising. Something to halt a spinning thumb in its tracks. But as Twitter compiled more and more research globally, they realised that theory wasn’t just simplistic, but often wrong.
“Advertising started off as being about presenting the right message,” U’ren says. “Then it evolved into considering running time and place. But now we’ve discovered there’s another dimension – state of mind. Before, we were preoccupied with ad length, but the true benefit is the content meeting the expectations of the consumer at that precise moment.”
Unlike other platforms, Twitter wasn’t just about alleviating boredom. Its users were passionate and logged on for a specific need, such as commentating on a sports match or reacting to a TV show or learning about a major news event. When he commissioned neuroscience agency Neuro-Insight to conduct testing, it tallied with the company’s previous research.
“Not all screens are equal,” says Peter Pynta, Neuro-Insight’s director of sales and marketing. “Yes, it’s about TV vs cinema vs tablet vs mobile, but also about the particular website they’re using. These two ideas can have a dramatic influence on how much of an impact the creative has.”
Or as U’ren puts it: “On a platform where people are bored, advertisers need to fight harder. It’s the same reason sports sponsorship is still a highly valued piece of property, but late-night TV isn’t.”
And it wasn’t just as simple as analysing words and pictures. Increasingly, advertisers are using the platform as a home for branded videos. So Neuro-Insight tested more than 100 Twitter users in Melbourne, aged between 18-49 and split by gender, to see what kinds of sponsored content touched a neurological nerve.
“The number one rule was that content had to be good,” says U’ren. In fact, so long as the video was relevant and interesting, users weren’t especially bothered if it was paid for by a business or not, though they were more likely to click on a link if it was shared by someone they follow, rather than artificially placed on a newsfeed by the promoter.
The study then took this concept one stage further to investigate how advertisers can optimise their videos to specifically take advantage of Twitter users, as opposed to those on rivals platforms. Neuroscience was the perfect tool for this as it can pinpoint the exact moment in footage that attention is spiked – even if it is a subconscious reaction.
The research was, therefore, able to break down ads to show which scenes were working and which should be edited out. “But creatives don’t want a paint-by-numbers toolkit,” insists U’ren. “And they don’t want hard-and-fast rules. We wanted to dig out the top performing ads vs the weaker performing ones to see what the key differences were.”
The first major revelation was the importance of intrigue. This comes by posing a question or setting out a dilemma or asking the viewer, directly or indirectly, to think, ‘What would you do?’ And because of the rapid nature of browsing on mobiles, that needed to be done in the first three seconds.
“It brings in a human element,” adds Pynta. “Twitter is quite an immediate environment. Every moment is precious. When intrigue kicks in, it gives the adverts a holding power over viewers.”
Another was colour. Quite a few ads tested tried to depict a sombre mood by using a palette of blues or greys, but this turned people off. However, content with strong contrasts, such as reds or yellows, performed much better, unlike TV ads, where viewers would be more open to growing with a cleverly woven storyline over time. This led to another, similar observation with working towards both the medium of Twitter and the screen size: movement.
“This was more of a surprise,” says Pynta. “Sport is a very good example because it intrinsically has a lot of movement, particularly if it’s packaged as a highlight. Movement wastes no time in getting to a moment. If it’s a celebration or a goal being kicked, for instance, that’s high-impact.”
People that have a specific role in the story is another factor. Just throwing in characters who don’t do anything is a quick way to ensure viewers will lose interest. On the flipside, the holy grail is watching a character evolve through a linear story that has a clear resolution at the end. And the faster that can happen, the better.
“Some of the ads we tested didn’t go anywhere, and they didn’t have a conclusion,” says U’ren. “It’s what Neuro-Insight call conceptual closure. But if that apparent ending comes too soon, people consciously or unconsciously move on. We’re not saying that ads need to be lengthy, but those that built a story at pace were effective in being stored in long-term memory.”
Finally, while these were good tips to spark a user’s interest, one of the biggest revelations in ensuring a video was memorable was for the ads to be informative. Interestingly, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be linked to the quality – there were examples of content that few people initially clicked on, but that stuck in the mind of those who did press play. “When people stop, ads that have an informative angle are clear winners,” adds U’ren.
“The role of creativity is huge, but it’s influenced by the environment,” concludes Pynta, “and Twitter wanted to help advertisers know what is unique about theirs. Creatives need to be aware of these big rules and start their thinking with them to fully leverage the power of the environment.”
Published by Mumbrella