Brains and Beers: Subconscious Reactions to Michelob ULTRA

By Nina Miller


If you’re a beachgoer, you know the painstaking act of lugging a cooler across the hot sand. Suddenly, your umbrella feels like it is miles away and the sun has never been hotter. But the moment you finally slump your sweaty, sun-tanned body into a beach chair and crack open a cold beer, it is all worth it.


At Neuro-Insight, we are naturally curious. So, when Michelob Ultra released their commercial The Journey that visualized this sweaty summer trek perfectly, we were eager to test it. How were viewers subconsciously reacting to this beer ad in the heat of the summer?


To answer this, we used our patented technology, Steady State Topography (SST), which allows us to measure second-by-second brain responses that breach conscious filters and get to the root of human emotion and decision-making. Our technology allows us to understand exactly what consumers are encoding into long-term memory. Memory matters because what we subconsciously decide to store in memory today becomes the base for our decision-making in the future. As we explore what consumers are encoding into memory, we also look to the brain to tell us why a particular event or message is being stored – for this we leverage key diagnostic metrics including approach / withdraw, emotional intensity, and engagement.


So, how did the audience respond to this ad? As the protagonist trudges through the sand, determination in his eyes, viewer engagement* is high. These high scores indicate that the journey of dragging a cooler across the beach filled with delicious drinks is something that we all relate to.


This sets Michelob Ultra up perfectly for the introduction of key messaging, “Tastes best after breaking a sweat.” That’s because beer does taste better after the journey! People enjoy the message and lean-in.** Perhaps, that is why detail memory*** is so high here. High detail memory scores mean that viewers are remembering the message— the key to future behavior.


No matter the success of the setup, the ultimate determiner of ad success is the effectiveness of end branding. And from a sound, neuroscientific perspective… Michelob Ultra crushed it. Detail memory encoding is high. Viewers hear the crisp psst of the bottle opening, see the logo, and immediately associate and remember the brand as the delicious reward. Engagement peaks, and viewers lean-in. This key branding moment is a complete success.


Diving into the consumer subconscious, we saw that Michelob Ultra’s The Journey was a summer hit. Not only did viewers enjoy the narrative, but they remembered the beer. So as Fall officially begins, we wonder what comes next for Michelob Ultra. How will their advertising change with the weather and how will consumers continue to react to this delicious beverage? Whatever they do, we can’t wait to test it.



*Engagement is a diagnostic metric that we use to measure personal relevance towards content.

**A lean-in response indicates positive valence or approach.

***Detail memory is our key metric that indicates whether consumers are embedding key details of a creative into their long-term memory.