Brands look to neuroscience to make spend smarter

Brands are increasingly looking towards neuroscience in the planning stages of their campaigns to effectively finetune their creative to make it more memorable.


A combination of the proliferation of media and reduced budgets have led to marketers planning their above the line campaigns more carefully in recent months to ensure maximum effectiveness.

To now, marketers have looked on the practise with some cynicism, but now a number of brands have turned to neuroscience in order to determine what goes through viewers’ minds when they view a TV ad or a digital campaign, rather than simply relying on old methods.

Tradtional research agencies such as Millward Brown are also increasing their work in this area, anticipating an increase in demand from clients.

TV marketing body Thinkbox released some neuroscience research studies this year and is planning to increase its work in this area in 2013 – particularly looking at the effect different screens have on audience engagement to advertising.

Neil Mortensen, Thinkbox’s research and planning director, says neuroscience allows brands and agencies to concentrate less on the short term and understand how sales can be influenced at a much deeper level – sometimes through a lifetime of a brain being primed towards certain brands.

He adds: “As a marketer you have to be really brave to break out of the cycle of history of doing things and carrying on doing them because everyone else does it that way. Neuroscience may not rub well with the sometimes reductionist nature of marketing and it’s a gamble to step out and do something different but concentrating too much on short term metrics can lead you down the wrong path.”

Neuro Insight, which uses technology called Steady-State Topography to measure electrical signals at the scalp in order to determine when people have encoded an image or scene to memory, has seen an increase in brands approaching the company to use its services. Recent UK clients include John Lewis, Silverspoon and Aviva.

Heather Andrew, Neuro Insight’s director of client development, says marketers are now starting to see the quantitative validity and utility in using neuroscience.

She adds: “There’s certainly a change in the way people view this. First [marketers] looked at [neuroscience] more generically because there was a buzz around it. Now clients ask more pragmatic questions about what it can deliver; they have a better understanding of it and are coming with a hypothesis or specific questions.”

Aviva edited one of its Paul Whitehouse TV spots after neuroscience testing found part of the creative was making viewers subconsciously turn off.

Aviva began to use neuroscience to test its Paul Whitehouse-starring TV ads and also look at its rivals’ campaigns over the last year. The technology helped it make vital changes to its creative, such as a scene where Whitehouse pointed to the camera, which made the audience “flinch” because it was seen as aggressive, according to the brand’s market insight manager Stuart Peters.

He says the “beauty” of neuroscience is it picks up things marketers would not see from any other methodology – particularly in financial services where usual focus group and questionnaires ask people questions about things they do not necessarily know about.

He adds: “The marketing team really like it because it allows you to fine tune rather than go back to the drawing board – but just make the bits where people switch off shorter. Also there’s a clear link between encoding an image to memory and behaviour, so anything that can help us get people considering us first is a real benefit.”

Peters adds, however, that one of the barriers to using neuroscience more often is the cost associated – which is why it only uses the research method in the planning stages of its campaigns, rather than to assess their effectiveness once they have launched.

Digital agency Essence will build in a “neuromarketing” offer into its services next year, which it hopes to thread throughout all the work it does from planning to assessment of campaigns.

Alastair Cole, Essence’s head of creative services, believes neuromarketing will “become marketing” in the not too distant future, in the same way mobile web has just become “the web”.

He adds: “At the moment there is still a culture of skepticism around the topic and I would imagine people in the neuroscience arena would be concerned about cheapening the research they do by tagging marketing on the end. “Going forward we need to see more results from marketing campaigns attributed to neuromarketing to ease that skepticism.”

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