fMRI measures advertising effectiveness better than questionnaires

Smint's 'Small, handy & intensely fresh' ad was tested by Neurensics using fMRI. The same ad was tested with questionnaires by a well-known traditional qualitative research agency. Two different techniques, two different results and a difference in the prediction of the ads' effectiveness. Continue to discover why.

Client logo-smint-white_1
Used techniques
fMRI Brain Guided Interpretation (BGI)
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"Through fMRI research, we're gaining unique insights into the processing of our ads. It shows that they are processed quickly, automatically and emotionally. This gives us the tools to keep optimising our ads and increase brand growth." Dave Brosens, Brand Manager Smint & Frisk

Smint ad: 'Small, handy & intensely fresh'


The small, handy & intensely fresh ad shows positive images of people taking a Smint quickly after each other. They enjoy it, feel fresh and gain more self-confidence.

The images alternate quickly and there is no actual story. You might wonder: Isn't that bad for the effectiveness of the ad? 

The answer is no, and we're here to explain why.

fMRI vs. questionnaires = unconscious vs. conscious processing

Our brain processes information in two ways: System 1 and System 2. This has been demonstrated in the pioneering study by Daniel Kahneman, who was the first psychologist ever to win a Nobel Prize for this in 2002.

  • System 1: the brains' part responsible for quick, automatic and emotional decisions, often unconsciously.
  • System 2: the conscious part of the brain which is slower and responsible for rational and well-considered decisions. 

Kahneman's research has shown that we mainly make decisions based on System 1, so that we don't have to think. Our brain likes to avoid thinking, as it consumes energy. This contradicts the idea that we humans have about ourselves, that we make conscious and well-considered decisions (System 2). We only think if we really have to.

This is shown when respondents are asked to give their opinion. The conscious response is often different from the unconscious one. Unconscious reactions (or emotions) cannot be measured with questionnaires, but can be measured with fMRI. 

Research question: Is the Smint ad easy to follow?

Smint Reclame-onderzoek Neuro Ad Testing

The Smint ad was studied by a well-known traditional qualitative market research company. Using questionnaires, they asked whether the ad was easy to follow (System 2). The scores on 'Enjoyment' and 'Ease of Understanding' were both very low, which meant that the ad didn't come out too well.

Several reasons were given for this:

  1. The images alternate too quickly
  2. The ad is too busy
  3. The music is irritating and too busy
  4. The message isn't clear enough

It made it impossible for the respondents to enjoy the ad. The conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that the ad should be modified, but the question is: Is this really the way people process the visuals in ads?


fMRI results showed: the Smint ad has the character of an Effie Award

The results of the fMRI study were completely different. Neurensics used fMRI to measure the unconscious emotions that were activated by the ad directly in the brain (System 1).

Using our benchmark for effectiveness, we could see to what extent this ad would be effective. Positive emotions are important here, as an ad that activates more positive than negative emotions is more likely to be effective. The ad scored high on:

  1. Desire
  2. Lust 
  3. Expectation
  4. Value

This is due to the many positive visuals in the ad:

  • People taking a Smint, enjoying it and getting a fresh feeling (activates desire, expectation and reward).
  • The ad shows people getting more self-confidence after taking a Smint. This activates reward as we mirror the emotions of the actors (discover more about this in learning 5).

The score on negative emotions is significantly lower than average, which is a good score. This result - a high score on positive emotions and low on the negatives ones - is characteristic for an Effie Award ad: the prize for ads with above-average sales results. Therefore, the Smint ad activates the desired effect.


The study of the traditional market research agency shows that when you ask respondents for their opinion about an ad, they respond with System 2: they think about it slowly, rationally and well-considered. However, this isn't the way consumers look at an ad in real life (unless you're a marketer ;) ). 

Processing an ad is done via System 1: fast, automatic and emotional. The quick alternating visuals in the ad activated certain unconscious emotions.

Our fMRI research showed that the activated emotions are very positive, resulting in an above-average effective ad. This ad is therefore very effective via System 1.

Measuring unconscious emotions in the brain with fMRI therefore provides more accurate results than measuring conscious reactions with questionnaires.

However, at Neurensics we combine both techniques, because an ad can also have an effect via System 2. We measure System 1 with fMRI and System 2 with an online follow-up survey (questionnaire), so that we can measure the complete effect of an ad.

For testing your ad we recommend fMRI research in combination with an online follow-up research.

And now you:

  • Do you have an ad tested by using questionnaires and would you now like to have it tested with fMRI?
  • Or are you just looking to have your ads tested?
Please contact us to discuss the research possibilities.


Feel free to contact us about the research possibilities


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