Have You Got the Consumer Instinct?

Recent research shows that media people respond very differently to ads than the general population. Heather Andrew, CEO of Neuro Insight UK, reports.

Is this a familiar scenario? You’re watching TV at home with your partner or a friend (who doesn’t work in the marketing industry). The new John Lewis Christmas ad comes on and you’re riveted to the screen before waxing lyrical about the difference in the retailer’s creative strategy this year. You turn, and realize your companion has either picked up their phone or has already headed off to make a cup of tea. Most agency staffers will relate to the feeling that they are more engaged with a piece of advertising than their civilian friends and family. But it’s worth asking the question: how does this difference in experience affect the process of ad creation? For instance, do ad and media people react so differently to ads compared to the normal population that their judgements about advertising are inevitably skewed? And how can more self-awareness about this tendency help them to maximize the effectiveness of the advertising they make?

This was the issue we sought to shine a light on with a piece of research we conducted recently in conjunction with News UK. We showed three ads — for mobile provider Three, newspaper The Sun and the National Trust — to 50 employees of media agency Mindshare, and compared their responses to those of 50 members of the general population. In each case we fitted participants with headsets to test their brain response whilst watching the ads in the context of a television program. The broad finding is that, sure enough, agency people are more interested in ads than the rest of the population. Across all the ads, compared to the general public, our study’s media industry participants showed significantly higher levels of memory encoding and emotional response.

There was however one exception. The media industry participants were on average much less engaged with calls to action than the general population — possibly reflecting the fact that they engage with ads in a professional sense rather than as consumers, who might actually want to purchase what’s being advertised. Looking at the variance between Mindshare participants and the general population in more detail, we begin to uncover further differences in response. The Three ad — showing a little girl cycling along while lip syncing along to Starship’s ‘We built this city’ with her cat — gave rise to some of the biggest differences in response between industry and non-industry viewers. Of the ads tested, Three’s came out as most positive for the industry viewers, and least positive for the general population.

One explanation for this might be in the ad’s execution. The final frame of the ad offers viewers the chance to go online and create their own version of the ad with their own face morphed onto the girl’s, which could then be shared across social media. Mindshare viewers showed much higher levels of memory encoding for the frame that invited viewers to engage online — perhaps these media specialists were particularly interested in the part of the ad that hinted at a multi-channel campaign. A similar effect was seen when we looked at the responses of Mindshare viewers to The Sun’s ad. There was a point in the ad that talked about the mechanism for online subscriptions, again this was processed much more strongly amongst the media specialists, whose job it is to develop this sort of mechanism, than with non-industry viewers.

We also found some interesting variances when we looked at how the Mindshare viewers and the general population reacted to the National Trust ad (for its long-running ’50 Things to do before you’re 11 ¾’ campaign). The opening sequences, showing bored children sitting at home, were associated with a positive emotional response amongst the media agency viewers but were progressively less liked as the sequence went on by the general population. As the nature of the ad changed, with more action showing children enjoying themselves outdoors, the emotional response of the general population became more positive (peaking in response to the likely familiar campaign slogan). However, the Mindshare viewers weren’t so positive about the lively children or about the final end line — ’50 Things to do before you’re 11 ¾’. If we can extrapolate the results of our relatively small Mindshare test group to the rest of the media industry, could it be that media people’s natural interest in the elements of an ad that they are responsible for means that they would assume its target audience would be as engaged as they are in the media-related elements?

In particular, given the divergent reactions to the invitation to create your own version of the Three ad, might those in the industry be over-estimating consumers’ desire for a labour-intensive interaction with brands, especially while they are watching TV? This is a hypothesis, not a proven finding. Clearly we’d need to explore this subject further before coming to any definitive conclusions, but what we’ve seen so far might open up an interesting debate about how the industry’s view of ads may influence its work.

Originally published here

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