Volkswagen Tiguan’s Latest Advertisement ‘Laughing Horses’ Was Entertaining But Was It Commercially Effective?

Grabarz and Partner’s Laughing Horse campaign landed a Silver Lion award at the 2017 Cannes Lions Festival. Neuro-Insight aimed to determine the advertisement effectiveness by measuring brain activity to see how 50 females and 50 males responded to the Laughing Horses ad. The specific technology used by Neuro-Insight is founded in work originally developed for academic and neuroscience research and has been used to analyse the effectiveness of Cannes award winners for over four years.

Neuro-Insight technology allows us to simultaneously record viewer’s second-by-second changes in approach (like)/withdraw (dislike), emotional intensity, engagement and memory whilst watching advertisements. The measure Neuro-Insight predominantly focusses on, based on its strong and highly researched link in influencing consumer behaviours is Long-term Memory Encoding. This measure reveals what the brain is storing (or encoding) into conscious and unconscious long-term memory. Neuro-Insight’s Memory Encoding graph reveals how elements of the ad are stored in long-term memory. The higher the graph, the more strongly that moment in the ad is stored in memory and the more likely it will influence consumer behaviour.
The ad opens with an equine version of schadenfreude where a group of horses are taking obvious delight and laughing uncontrollably at the inability of a driver to reverse park a horse trailer. Much to the horses’ delight, each attempt to park the trailer ends in failure until the frustrated and flustered male driver admits defeat and drives off. Cut to the next driver with a trailer who switches on the vehicle’s Trailer Assist feature before performing a perfect technology assisted reverse park. The horses are now obviously impressed and silent. As a piece of advertising, it follows a well-worn path, present the problem and then reveal the product or service as the solution. While the ad is certainly an effective piece of humour with the contagious laughing sound track matching the laughing horses, how commercially effective is it likely to be? As part of our exclusive Cannes on the Brain series, now in its sixth year, we look at the brain activity associated with the Cannes winners to understand the factors contributing to the likely effectiveness of the ads.

“We found that females identify more strongly with the challenges and frustration of the parking portrayal”

While the principal focus of these reports is long-term memory encoding, the measure most strongly linked to consumer behaviour, given the emotional theme of this ad we initially look at the male female differences in Engagement and Emotional Intensity. In focusing on the key humorous theme of the frustrated driver in the first 25 sec, we found that females identify more strongly with the challenges and frustration of the parking portrayal. This is indicated by the fact that the female level of Engagement was 46% higher than that exhibited by males while the Emotional Intensity experienced by the female viewers was 8% higher than males viewers.

Below are the times series graphs for both male and female viewers’ response to the advertisement. The red trace reflects memory encoding from the left hemisphere, which is primarily responsible for the encoding of the detail in experiences, such as text or dialogue. In contrast, the right hemisphere which is reflected by the blue line is concerned with the storing of global features, such as soundtracks, scenery, facial expressions as well as the emotional underpinnings of a particular experience.

Long term memory encoding for Female Viewers

Long term memory encoding for Male Viewers

The above time series graphs reveal some common responses between the male and female groups as well as significant differences. Overall, the female viewers exhibited higher long-term memory encoding during the first 25 sec portraying the hapless first driver. During this interval, the highest levels of long-term memory encoding are associated with the times the horses are shown laughing most uproariously. The images associated with peaks of long-term memory encoding are especially important as these are the hooks or ‘Iconic Triggers’ that the brain uses to recall or recreate the memory in its entirety. In this case, unsurprisingly, it will be the image of the laughing horses that will come to mind before the narrative is recalled.
While the humorous situation of the laughing horses is well encoded by the female group, in the following sequence where the Tiguan parks effortlessly with the help of Trailer Assist, the text ‘Precision parking’ is also satisfactorily encoded indicating that the reverse parking feature is adequately communicated to female viewers.

“Overall, we would judge this advertisement to be not only creatively entertaining but also commercially effective, especially with the male group.”

While the males’ peak level of long-term memory encoding in the first 25 sec occurred during a sequence showing an embarrassed and frustrated driver seeing the laughing horses, the peaks of long-term memory encoding took place when the Trailer Assist was switched on and the text ‘Precision parking’ appeared. Interestingly, the highest level of male Engagement (not shown here) occurs precisely at the time at the time that the Trailer Assist is switched on. In all, this suggests that the male group respond more effectively to information about the Trailer Assist feature.

Overall, we would judge this advertisement to be not only creatively entertaining but also commercially effective, especially with the male group. The solution to the reverse parking problem indicated by the key message ‘Precision parking’ is very well encoded at the 95th percentile for the male group and satisfactorily encoded at the 75th percentile for the female group. By integrating the key message and product into the narrative, the ad avoids the common problem of ‘Conceptual Closure’ which can supress long-term memory encoding at branding. This suppression of brand long-term memory encoding is frequently seen when the ad narrative and branding are disconnected with the brand appearing at the end of the ad. In all Grabarz and Partner’s Laughing Horse ad combines humour and a sense of embarrassment with commercial effectiveness.

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