How do effective ads impact our brains?

Effective ads activate behavioural intentions, such as buying a product or acquiring a service. fMRI research shows that effective ads share four specific characteristics. Discover them below.

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How to predict an ad's effectiveness?

Producing an ad requires a considerable budget. On top of production cost, there's also media costs. Therefore, it's logical advertisers want the highest possible ROI.

So, it would be beneficial to predict the effectiveness of an ad, to a high degree of certainty. This would allow you to optimise the ad before spending the real big bucks. But how do you do that?

Neurensics has built a predictive pre-test for ads, by testing a large number of proven effective ads. All these ads have won an Effie award: the award for ads accomplishing extraordinary marketing results.

The pre-test is based on what people feel deep inside (brain activations) and not on what people say. Advertising does its work deep inside the brain. Asking people what they think of something doesn't give you accurate results.

4 characteristics of effective advertising

Effectieve reclame (concept) in het brein spider plot neuromarketing

All Effie ads showed four common characteristics. This is shown in the spider plot above. It shows different positive and negative emotions (green and red) that can be activated by an ad and two concepts - Engagement (purple) and Impact (blue).

  1. Effective ads activate more positive emotions than negative ones.
    Ads generating behavioural intentions (e.g. purchase intention) largely activate positive brain responses, such as Desire, Expectation or Trust.

  2. Effective ads seduce the consumer.
    The positive (buying) emotions (in green, top) create temptation and this is crucial for the effectiveness of the ad.

  3. The brain believes that the product will produce a rewarding feeling.
    Value (in purple, right) is important for the effectiveness of an, because it makes the brain believe that using the ad's product will give a strong feeling of reward.

  4. Effective ads score low on negative emotions.
    Effective ads are a lot less flashy and loud than fun or annoying ads (in red, bottom). In fact, fun and annoying ads activate more negative emotions and are significantly less effective.

Only activate negative emotions when presenting a solution

If your product or service offers a solution, you can choose to activate negative emotions in your viewers. The order of presentation is important: start by presenting the problem (negative emotions), then end by presenting the solution (positive emotions). The solution also needs to be magnified (see also learning 9). 

The balance between the positive and negative emotions is important - the activation of positive emotions needs to be bigger. Rewards work better than punishment.

Or, if you have children you are probably already aware of this: rewards are effective for obtaining desired behaviours, while punishments only works to inhibit behaviours.

Kärcher commercial: the shorter version has a better balance of positive and negative emotions

So, the balance between positive and negative emotions is crucial. We'll demonstrate this with the Kärcher ad.

Neurensics tested this ad by using a short and long version. Check out the two versions below and see if you can predict which ad was more effective.

Long version

Short version

What do you think?

The results (see plot below) showed that the shorter version of 21 seconds (grey line) has a better balance of positive and negative emotions than the longer version of 32 seconds (green line). Why?

Karcher effectieve reclame - hoe ziet die eruit in het brein

Because the short version activates less negative emotions. The short version doesn't show the running kids at the beginning of the ad, hence there's less focus on the mother's upset facial expression (which activates negative emotions, see also learning 2).

This study shows that (pre)testing your ads can lead to more effective ads and in some cases to lower ad spending by removing (less effective) scenes. 

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