How Channels and Context Impact on Consumer Memory | A Neuroscience Study
As part of its continuing commitment to original research, Ireland’s public service broadcaster, RTÉ, wanted to investigate the impact of context on response to communication; specifically to build new understanding about the performance of advertising across the various platforms that it operates. Heather Andrew, CEO, Neuro-Insight, UK, shares the research results.
To achieve an accurate overview of the advertising market across the media platforms, RTÉ wanted to go beyond standard industry measures. Despite the availability of excellent data using metrics like reach and impacts, there was no robust and quantified information about the quality of message delivery across a range of different platforms.
RTÉ were concerned that simply asking people about this wouldn’t work, recognising that it is almost impossible for people to consciously identify – and then articulate – the relative subconscious impact of messages delivered in different contexts. They therefore decided to look for a research approach that could explore and quantify the emotional, sub-conscious responses that underlie behaviour, and which could be applied to different media and platforms in order to understand their relative impact and the relationships between them.
The solution they chose – neuroscience – offered a way of measuring and quantifying things that people would find hard to articulate. Specifically, they chose to work with my company, Neuro-Insight, which specialises in measuring subconscious brain response to brand and media communication, with experience across a wide range of media and platforms in number of markets worldwide. We are the only company in the world licensed to use a patented technology that allows the measurement of second by second changes in brain activity, and can deliver unique insights into how a piece of design or advertising is affecting people subconsciously at both a rational and an emotional level.
The interaction between the different platforms in the study was important and demonstrated the value of RTÉ’s presence across multiple channels, which makes
it highly effective when it comes to building and triggering brand equity.
Working with Neuro-Insight, RTÉ set out to uncover how channel context can impact consumers’ subconscious reactions to advertising on TV, radio and online. RTÉ platforms were included alongside competitor ones in the study, which was the first of its kind to be conducted in the Republic of Ireland, and one of the largest single market studies ever conducted outside Neuro-Insight’s home markets.
We pre-recruited a sample of 240 people to take part in the study, all of whom were users of TV, radio and video on demand services. At recruitment stage they were not told who we were working for, or the exact purpose of the study, only that they would be taking part in a brain imaging study to understand their response to communication. They were convened in groups of eight people at a time in locations in Dublin and Cork where, after an introduction to the methodology, we fitted them with headsets that picked up responses in different parts of their brains.
This allowed us to measure and report on a number of metrics, including visual attention, personal relevance and emotional response. But the most important measure for the purpose of this study was long-term memory encoding, recording what is stored into memory as people engage with a stimulus; vital in the case of commercial messages because it has been shown to correlate with decision-making and purchase intent.
The study findings revealed that memory encoding response to the ads seen on RTÉ television channels was 11% higher than encoding of the same ads seen on competitor channels and this was reflected too in higher levels of conscious recall. This better performance of ads in an RTÉ television context reflected two key factors. Any sustained activity tends to elicit lower brain response as time goes on, so the longer ad breaks used by competitive channels suffer from a greater falling off of responses than the relatively short breaks delivered by RTÉ.
In addition, the surrounding programming content on RTÉ also helped, eliciting levels of response that were 7% higher than the average benchmarks for TV programme viewing, and 10% higher than responses to the closest competitive channels in the Irish market.
The study also revealed that radio advertising on RTÉ benefited strongly when executions from the same campaign had previously been seen on RTÉ television channels, performing 24% better across all key metrics than when heard in an unprimed state. The strong performance of TV ads on RTÉ was setting up a condition where the brain was more receptive to linked advertising subsequently encountered on RTÉ radio.
This effect was much stronger on RTÉ compared to the effects of ads seen on competitor TV channels and then heard on competitor radio stations.
The net effect was that, whilst ads primed by RTÉ elicited higher responses than the unprimed advertising, the same radio ads primed by competitor TV channels actually performed less well than the unprimed equivalents.
In the online world, RTÉ Player strongly outperformed Facebook. There was a huge difference in exposure times, with advertisements encountered on RTÉ Player viewed nearly 10 times longer than the same adverts on Facebook and, on top of this difference in viewing behaviour, the ads on RTÉ Player elicited higher levels of brain response, with the all-important memory encoding metric being 31% higher.
The interaction between the different platforms in the study was important and demonstrated the value of RTÉ’s presence across multiple channels, which makes it highly effective when it comes to building and triggering brand equity. To understand how this comes about, we talk about the “brand room” in people’s brains, as a metaphor for the network of associations that a person has about a brand. Brand rooms for familiar and well-loved brands are well furnished, while the rooms for less well-known brands are comparatively empty. Brand touchpoints can either ‘furnish’ or ‘re-decorate’ a brand room by offering new information or changing perceptions of that brand, and this works best where there is some level of sustained engagement with a brand touchpoint, ideally with an emotional component. This is where the strongly-performing RTÉ television channels are working particularly well.
But people don’t think about brands all the time so, to continue the metaphor, a brand room will usually be in darkness. Therefore, brand owners need to identify ways to “light up” the room to illuminate all their hard-won associations and bring them to the front of our minds. This is where media like radio and online can work well and are particularly evocative if they are consistent with what furnished the room in the first place. So, for a brand room well-furnished by RTÉ television, RTÉ radio and RTÉ Player are particularly powerful as light switches, and this is a key factor in the effectiveness of the RTÉ brand as a whole.