Science Reveals What Makes A Memorable Ad (Hint -- It's Not A Call To Action)

So we all think we know how to do a great television ad? Turns out that according to the television advocacy group, Thinkbox, the science of memory might not always agree with what we assume is correct, or at least how brands carry out television campaigns, leaving us to assume that must be the way you do it.

Thinkbox commissioned neuroscience experts at Neuro-Insight to look at 150 tv ads to see how they would impact long term memory encoding (LTME) -- I think that's science talk for what marketers would call, "recall" -- and there are some fascinating insights. 

One of my favourite findings, which puts my faith back in humanity, is that we are not at all bothered by the terribly PC lineups we get in groups where a marketing guru has cautioned that every colour and gender variation has to be catered for. According to the scientists, the public are a bit too smart not to know this has gone on, and if they're anything like me, will find it contrived. So, the advice is you don't have to be overly cautious or optimistic when casting, the public don't expect someone of every colour, size, ability level and gender variation to be seated around every dinner table when you're push a gravy granule.

And the science bit? Well, sorry, shampoo ad makers, putting science and facts into advertising can work if you feel you have no other choice. However, humour and emotion surrounding real people are far better for long-term memory recall.

So what does work? In a nod to every marketing guru who has taken to any conference hall in the past few years, it really is all in the storytelling. A good story will be encoded in the memory 9% better than one without a good story, but if you add a little intrigue and change the pace of the ad, the potential for better recall leaps 20%. If you want to go the full hog, put in some music which matches what's going on in the ad -- either the music just fits or the words are poignant to the story -- and memory encoding is improved by 13%. And take this Millennials, or should it be 'Take That' Millennials, the oldies are the best. Songs dating back from before the turn of the century further boost long-term memory encoding by 8%. 

The simple lessons are, then, tell a truly engaging story, make it change pace and pause and turn as it unwinds, slap on some great music and you've got the recipe for an ad people will remember -- even if the group of friends enjoying the new car/dinner/shampoo/soft drink are not from a diverse group. 

One very interesting finding is that even if you get all this right, there is still a major opportunity to go wrong at the end. We all know those ads where there's a twist or a reveal in the final moments, following by a brand message. Trouble is, you can often be taking in that surprise, smart ending and not notice the brand message. In fact, the scientists say the ability to lay down a branded message straight after one of these reveals dips by 30%. Their advice is to have some branding throughout the ad, if possible, or if you're keeping it a surprise, add a second or two for a pause before a branded message is revealed. 

And just in case you're a marketer out there fighting the good fight for a great campaign, despite all the advice around you, the neuroscientists assure that calls to action are way down the list of what makes an ad memorable. So too, it turns out rather surprisingly, are the dialogue in advert and even putting in cute kids and animals. 

2 comments about "Science Reveals What Makes A Memorable Ad (Hint -- It's Not A Call To Action)".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, March 22, 2016 at 1:56 p.m.

    As soon as you follow a formula, your ad becomes just like every other one out there. This isn't the first time scientists have tried to impose a formula over creative. I've seen it applied, with the resulting creative resembling shit.

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, April 5, 2016 at 3:43 a.m.

    Jonathan, I can't see where a formula is trying to be imposed.   The research is merely quantifying various inputs (we advertising people like to call them 'devices') effect on brain stimulation.

    Mind you I have seen many shit results as the result of using formulaic approaches.   Sadly, too many of them were from lazy creatives 'tweaking the ad that previously worked'.   Good creative comes from good thinking.   Good research can stimulate (but never replace) good thinking.

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