You Don't Need To See To Believe

The radio industry has been talking about imagery transfer for years, but the research dedicated to it has been sparse at best. Imagery transfer is simply the processing of an audio stimulus visually in the mind. In 1993, Statistical Research Inc. conducted a study on this topic that built on research done by NBC in the 1960's. In the SRI study, 75% of respondents were able to recall audio/visual elements of TV commercials when hearing only the audio portion over the telephone.

Several years after the SRI study, the fMRI scanner provided solid scientific evidence regarding the existence of imagery transfer. Operational in the late 1990's, the fMRI scan, which remains one of the most advanced forms of neuro-imaging equipment in existence, measures the change in blood flow to different parts of the brain. It confirmed that exposure to certain sounds activated the flow of blood to Brodmann's area 18 & 19, the so-called visual portion of the brain, otherwise known as our "mind's eye." This provided additional proof that what we hear has an extraordinary impact on what we see.



We recently stumbled upon further evidence of imagery transfer when conducting a study on the radio copy for a national advertiser. The study was designed to provide diagnostics on the radio commercial's emotional and cognitive impact. Immediately after listening to a commercial, respondents were asked to provide gut reactions regarding what they liked or disliked about what they had just heard. Without prompting of any kind, here are a few examples of what they told us:

  • "I actually picture the TV advertisement with the same script."
  • "I recognize the actor as the one I've seen on TV."
  • "I have seen ads with same actor on TV and recognize the voice."
  • "It is funny and keeps with a theme they started on TV."
  • "I have a mental connection with the voice, he is a TV actor."
  • "I liked the voice actor used; he is the same as the TV ads."
  • "I like the narrator. The TV commercials are great."

You get the idea. Unprompted feedback from these respondents continually made reference to the advertiser's TV campaign after exposure to the radio ad.

Imagery transfer requires a sufficient budget, concept continuity and a memorable ad premise. Once these three requirements are achieved, why not get the benefits of visual advertising at audio prices? The mind's eye enables us to see and describe what's not in our line of sight. It can do the same when it comes to television commercials.

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