Brain scans reveal what makes a TV advert most effective


RESEARCHERS AT Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) have discovered what in a TV advert triggers people to find the product online, by scanning the brains of a group of ‘guinea pig’ consumers.

The group was shown the adverts of 11 different products, all created for the same brand of pain-relieving muscle and joint gel.

These scans showed that an advert works best when it highlights both a product’s functional benefits and triggers the viewer’s imagination. Together these activate specific parts of the viewer’s brain most intensely, to make the advert more effective.

The study aimed to examine online search behaviour and to find the elements most effective in prompting consumers. The goal was not only to find out which elements, but also to understand why, hence the need to gather the data from brain scans.

Linda Couwenberg, who led the research, said: ‘This study shows that the effectiveness of a marketing message cannot be explained by isolating just one simple brain process. Successful TV adverts trigger a complex combination of processes in the brain.’

‘First of all we undertook a study of a large audience to measure click-through rates and what combination of elements in the adverts was most effective. From this evidence, we then conducted the brain scans – magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – on a smaller group to determine what makes these elements so effective in activating consumers.’

‘Adverts that highlighted the product’s advantages were found to trigger most activity in the part of the brain associated with recognising and identifying objects: what am I looking at and how can I use it?’

‘Those adverts or elements that appeal to the imagination, or have an original way of delivering the message, activated more complex thought processes, such as sustained attention, working memory and creative thinking.’

She added: ‘By understanding which elements of an advert are most effective in doing what, we believe marketing, advertising and media professionals will be better placed to optimise the creative development of adverts.’

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