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Premium editorial sites outperform social media for long-term memory encoding

Premium editorial sites outperform social media for long-term memory encoding

A new study by Newsworks and the Association for Online Publishing (AOP) finds that left brain memory encoding, which processes words and detail, is 42% stronger when people view ads on premium editorial sites than when they see the same ads on social media sites. Right brain memory encoding (more emotional and global aspects of processing) is strong for both premium sites and social media, but ads on premium sites generate a 9% stronger response.


The research, conducted by neuroscience experts Neuro-Insight, set out to explore why the quality context that editorial media provide works - focusing on the physiological effects that environments have on brain responses to advertising.


The research measured participants’ brain responses to identical ads in different contexts, analysing a number of sites in the brain in order to identify key research metrics:


  • Long-term memory encoding – Memory encoding is key because it correlates with decision-making and purchase intent. It is measured for both left brain (detail and language) and right brain (more global aspects of processing)


  • Engagement – Engagement is an indicator of how involved people are, and is generally triggered by material that is of personal relevance


  • Emotional intensity ­– Emotional intensity relates to the strength of emotion being experienced


Results show that ads seen in a premium context are viewed for longer (+17%), create 29% higher engagement (personal relevance) and generate greater levels of left brain (+42%) and right brain (+9%) memory encoding than ads on social media (Facebook and YouTube). Ads seen within a premium context also elicit stronger, more positive emotional responses.


Social media is associated with high levels of immediate attention, however the study suggests that this is not creating engagement (personal relevance), or being converted into long-term brand memories to the same extent as on premium sites.


Both premium and social media environments outperform the average of ads encountered during free browsing, implying that targeting ads simply by audience is not optimising ad performance online. Environment is critical and the combination of premium editorial sites and social media offers complementary strengths. Social media provide a holistic, visual, overall brand impression, while premium contexts create detailed associations and personal relevance, leading to better memory encoding.

Commenting on the research, Newsworks’ CEO Vanessa Clifford said:

“We already knew that context was important for digital ad performance – now we know that it is because the brain processes ads differently depending on where they are encountered. It’s not enough to find the right audience, people need to see ads in an environment that is conducive to memory encoding if we are to build brands longer term and maximise effectiveness. Premium editorial sites provide that highly valuable context.”


Anthony Jones, Head of Insight at the Association for Online Publishing (AOP) commented:

“A number of recent studies have shown that premium publisher environments outperform other digital environments on a number of key business and brand measures. This study helps us better understand why these differences exist, and provides practical guidance about the respective roles premium editorial and social media environments play in helping achieve communications success.”




The impact of different media contexts is hard to assess using traditional approaches, as people simply aren’t aware of the way in which context impacts their perceptions and therefore find it hard to articulate.


This study used Steady State Topography (SST), which measures second by second electrical activity in the brain in order to report on various cognitive functions proven to relate to advertising impact.


139 participants took part, aged 18-60 years and recruited to reflect a range of online media usage.


A three stage approach was used:

Free browsing – Participants freely browsed different websites via either desktop or mobile and naturally encountered various different brand communications.


Exposure to ads in different contexts – Each respondent saw the same test ads in two different environments; a premium editorial context and a social media context. Respondents were not forced to go to any particular site – they were given sites to choose from that they would normally read. Device usage was designed to be reflective of how respondents normally consume content.


Filmed online journey – Participants viewed a film of someone navigating an online journey through both a premium site and a social media site.


Throughout the experiment, participants’ brain responses were individually measured and behaviour recorded using a video camera, enabling Neuro-Insight to determine brain response at any one point in time. Analysis involved looking at average levels of response to each ad in its different context.


About Newsworks

Newsworks is the marketing body for national newspapers in all their forms. Our stakeholders are dmg media, ESI Media, Guardian News & Media, Johnston Press, News UK, Telegraph Media Group and Trinity Mirror. We collaborate with all parts of the industry, including advertisers, agencies and other media, to promote understanding of national newspapers, and their role as newsbrands in the multi-platform world. We aim to celebrate and share the best in research, planning and creative involving national newspapers.

For more information, or to arrange a presentation of the results, please contact:



Association for Online Publishing (AOP)

Liz Jaques

Zoe Baptie

head of communications

GingerMay PR



phone: +44 (0)20 7747 2133

phone: +44 (0) 203 642 1124



Denise Turner

Anthony Jones

insight director

Head of Insight



phone: +44 (0)20 7747 2126

mobile: +44 (0)7803 20 40 50


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