The Power of Interaction
Using neuroscience to understand the impact of interaction on responses to online advertising
Heather Andrew – CEO, Neuro-Insight (UK) Ltd
Online publishers have traditionally relied on either paywalls or paid for advertising to generate revenue. A new online advertising product - FreeWall®, developed by Rezonence - requires users to interact with an ad, placed towards the beginning of an online article, in order to “unlock” the remainder of the content.
Early research into FreeWall® had indicated that it elicited unusually high levels of recall in comparison with standard online advertising. The interactivity required of readers seemed to be an important part of the experience, and one that warranted further investigation.
Specifically, Unilever, working with Rezonence, wanted to explore this effect in the context of interactive advertising for one of their haircare brands. Neuro-Insight consequently carried out a piece of neuro-research to investigate the impact of interactive FreeWall® advertising in comparison with conventional online advertising.
Hypothesis and questions to address
Previous research carried out by Neuro-Insight had indicated that interactivity has an important role to play in driving heightened levels of brain response. Therefore, the working hypothesis going into this study was that the interaction required in order to move on past FreeWall® ads was contributing to heightened levels of brain response, specifically in terms of memory, and so was driving a greater likelihood to remember the content of the advertising message.
With this as background, the research set out to address two specific questions:
- In an online magazine context, did the interactive FreeWall® advertising elicit stronger responses than standard online advertising?
- Was the reaction to the advertising positive, rather than being seen as an unwelcome interruption of the reading experience?
Overall approach and metrics
Neuroscience was chosen as the methodology to address these questions because simply asking people about the impact of the ads would have given only part of the picture. People may well not be aware of the strength of, for example, their memory response; and asking whether they like or welcome almost any sort of advertising is likely, at a rational level, to evoke a negative response. By looking at brain activity instead of asking explicit questions, we were able to measure and quantify what was actually happening in people’s brains as they experienced FreeWall® executions.
To do this, we used a unique methodology - Steady State Topography (SST) - which tracks electrical responses in the brain in real time as people are exposed to different stimuli. SST is very resistant to “noise” in the data, making it ideally suited to market research. Importantly, it’s a quantitative approach – using samples that are big enough not only to give robust readings, but also to be statistically representative. It delivers a number of metrics; attention, engagement (personal relevance), emotional intensity, approach/withdrawal (polarity of emotional response) and long-term memory encoding.
It is the last of these measures that is key for this study. Long-term memory encoding refers not to what is already stored in memory, but to what is being encoded, or stored, as people experience something. This measure is recorded for both the left brain (detail) and right brain (emotional or holistic memory). Long-term memory encoding is key because it correlates with decision-making and purchase behaviour, evidenced both by academic research and commercial validation. To give just two examples, Neuro-Insight have published articles about this, most notably in the Journal of Advertising research; and Ehrenberg Bass, working with Mars, published a paper describing a pilot study where memory was found to be the most accurate indicator of the correlation between advertising and subsequent in-market performance.
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