Neuroscience in Advertising: Making the :15 the New :30

August 5, 2013

The :15 second TV commercial has a lot in common with cubic zirconium—a cheaper and lower quality “look-alike” that is almost instantly recognizable by anyone as anything but the real thing.

Often treated as an afterthought by Marketers and Agencies alike, the :15 TV spot is usually just a cut down version of the :30, rarely copy tested, but assumed to be at least 50% as good as the :30 from which it’s derived.

But the truth is that most Marketers have no idea how good, or bad, their :15’s really are. It’s as if everyone just blindly assumes the best, without thinking about the worst. Fifteen second ads adhere to the same basic principles of success as :30’s, but just get much less attention.

An Improvement — Real Time :15 vs. :30 Optimization

Things have improved somewhat over the past few years. With the advent of real time TV ad effectiveness measurement, Marketers can now monitor the performance of their :30’s and :15’s on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, so they can understand relative differences in performance.

This enables you to see when your 15’s perform well enough to warrant moving out of your :30’s and into 100% focus on your :15’s. But all of this is after the fact. What’s really needed is better :15 design beforehand. But how?

Neuroscience & Copy Testing

Neuroscience has had any number of fits and starts over the past few years when applied to Marketing. But one area where there has been substantial and undeniable progress is in the area of copy testing. Possibly the most advanced technique uses EEG measures of brain activity to understand how viewers are responding to advertising. This approach uses EEG to identify and capture responses to brain stimuli in fractions of a second.

In particular, EEG based copy testing can measure three things extremely well:

  1. Attention – When and how much viewer attention is paid to an ad. This is key to knowing if someone even notices or pays attention to your ad in the first place.
  2. Memory – Whether a viewers memory is activated in response to viewing an ad. Without memory, it’s unlikely that an ad will influence much future behavior.
  3. Emotion – To what degree a viewer is drawn to or pulls away from the ad stimulus. Attention and memory are important, but so is positive emotional attraction.

Taken together, these three measures are key to effective ads. They relate directly to whether someone pays attention to the ad, whether the ad is stored in long term memory, and whether the ad elicits a positive emotional response.

Importantly, EEG based copy testing measures viewer’s brain waves in milliseconds throughout the commercial. Typically, a viewer’s brain waves looks like a series of peaks and valleys as the viewer responds to different parts of the commercial. These peaks and valleys correspond to the parts of the commercial that are most and least effective as measured by attention, memory and emotion.

The Optimal :15 TV Spot

Back to the :30 vs. :15 conundrum: how do you design a better :15 TV spot? Well, it’s not as difficult as rocket science, but it’s essentially an exercise in brain wave assessment. Simply put, you cut out the ads “valleys” and keep the “peaks.”

Neuroscience based copy testing has advanced to the point where it can algorithmically eliminate the weakest portions of the :30 TV commercial while keeping the strongest ones for the new :15. This re-cut commercial is then edited by the Agency creatives for story flow, continuity, and visual seamlessness into a final spot.

The Neuroscience Based :15 TV Commercial – How Good ?

At this point, you might be asking: “but how good, really, are these cut down neuroscience based ads? It all sounds like a big black box.”

Based on Nielsen NeuroFocus (disclosure: I work at Nielsen) testing of both original :30 TV spots and the EEG-optimized :15’s, here is what we see:

  • ~90% of neuroscience optimized :15 ads test just as well as their :30 counterparts
  • A significant number of optimized :15 ads actually test better than their :30 counterparts

Upside for Marketers

So, the next time you see your Ad Agency, tell them that you have a “present” for them—neuroscience-based :15’s. They’re definitely a lot more valuable than regular “cubic zirconium” :15’s and, more importantly, viewers will respond as if they’re :30 “diamonds in the rough.”

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