Advertising: Neuroscience Recommends Shorter TV Spots

By August 20, 2013
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Using consumer neuroscience to help create television advertising spots is set to make 15 seconds the new 30.

Often treated as an afterthought by marketers, the 15-second TV advertising spot is usually just a cut-down version of the 30-second spot, rarely copy tested, but nevertheless assumed to be at least 50% as good as the 30-second spot from which it is derived.  The 15-second ads are deemed to adhere to the same basic principles of success as the ‘30’s, but do they really command as much attention from the viewers? International media information and measurement company Nielsen has been looking into this question and has carried out a study which shows that TV campaigns have improved in recent years, especially with the advent of real-time TV ad effectiveness measurement. Marketers are now in fact equipped to monitor the performance of their 30-second and 15-second spots in detail on a weekly basis and analyse consumer reaction.

EEG-based copy testing

Marketing experts have made a great deal of progress in the field of copy testing recently as a result of consumer neuroscience. The most advanced technique uses electroencephalography (EEG) to measure viewer brain activity so as to gauge how viewers are responding to the advertising on their screens. EEG identifies and captures people’s responses to brain stimuli and EEG-based copy testing is able to provide very accurate measurement of three things: attention, memory and emotion. Taken together, these three elements are key for marketers, as they directly reveal whether someone is paying attention to the spot, whether the content is subsequently stored in his/her long term memory, and whether the ad elicits a positive emotional response. Importantly, EEG-based copy testing measures a viewer’s brain waves in milliseconds throughout the commercial. Typically, a viewer’s brain waves looks like a series of peaks and troughs as s/he responds differently to different parts of the commercial.

Optimal solution: 15-second spot

Using an algorithm, copy testing can thus help to eliminate the weakest sections of a 30-second TV spot while retaining the most effective parts for the 15-second spot. This ‘re-cut’ ad is then edited by the creative staff at the agency to ensure continuity and visual homogeneity. Having studied the effectiveness of 30-second TV spots and their optimised 15-second versions, Nielsen’s finding is that the impact of the ad is maintained in 90% of the shorter ads tested and that in many cases the shorter version has greater impact. Tightening up advertising spots is of course only one application of consumer neuroscience among many, but it achieves highly positive results for all concerned.  Consumer neuroscience can help advertisers to reduce their spend, while agencies can use it as a tool for creating more effective advertising.


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