People’s brains were analyzed while they listened to radio ads. Here’s what happened.

Neurensics neuromarketing research conducted the first study in marketing history that assesses how radio ads affect the brain. Neurensics used fMRI technology to scan the brains of 25 unknowing males while they listened to radio ads (they thought they were actually participating in a study about language proficiency).

Finding 1: Passive listening trumps active listening.

Good news for radio, which is known as a “background medium.” People often listen to the radio passively while cleaning, driving, working, etc. This has caused some concern for those who wonder if their ad will truly be heard. But here’s why passive listening is a good thing: while you are listening passively, your “ad guard” is down, resulting in greater trust and a higher perceived reward/expectation from the brand.

During active listening, the brain is more critical of the message and is less likely to trust the brand. The study states, “During unconscious processing, the consumer uses simple, automated rules and heuristics that can be influenced by persuasive advertising…During conscious processing the consumer listens more critically to the commercial arguments, resulting in less trust, but more overall emotional activation.”

Finding 2: Ads with audio logos perform better.

Specifically, when it comes to purchasing. The study states, “…radio commercials with a sound logo are more effective in activating brain areas that are relevant to purchase behavior than commercials without a sound logo.” This actually held true for all the tested brands, whether big name or small.

Finding 3: Humor garners more attention and brain activity.

Humor has extreme scores for emotion in the brain. Humor can help to make your ad differentiate among the others, and collect more engagement than a non humorous ad. When the subjects heard humorous ads, their attention and brain activity spiked. The study does warn however, that humor which doesn’t go over well with the audience may cause negative emotions.

Finding 4: Emotions carry over—visuals do not.

It has been long thought that something called “visual transfer” occurs after watching a television ad and then hearing the corresponding radio ad from the same campaign. This means that after you watch a TV commercial and then hear the radio edit, the visuals from the television spot carry over into your mind, so you are “seeing” them while listening the radio ad. This actually isn’t true.

A visual transfer does not exist—but an emotional transfer does. The emotion you sense from a TV ad is reactivated when you hear the corresponding radio edit—not the imagery associated with it. The study concludes, “Contrary to theory, the visual cortex (responsible for processing visual information) and memory structures (e.g. hippocampus) are not more active for radio ads with a television commercial, than for radio ads without a television version.”

Finding 5: How different types of ads score in the brain based on emotions & cognitive dimensions

Neurensics studied 171 commercials with over 200 participants. They measured the effectiveness of funny ads (Gouden Loekies), irritating ads (Loden Leeuwen) and Effie nominations for campaigns. In the graph below, you can see how each type performed across 13 different emotional and cognitive aspects. The study states the following from these findings:

“It provides insight into how advertising works and how to optimize it. In addition, the meta-analysis of post-testing provides input for performing pre-testing. Moving storyboards, animatics, or strategic plans can be tested for their efficacy in activating the brain dimensions that correspond to effective commercial communications. This allows us to predict, with reasonable accuracy, how effective a campaign will be.”

Source: Neurensics Neuromarketing Research