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TV ads: tell stories and don't shout

News, 22 March 2016

LONDON: Television advertising is more memorable if it depicts a story and avoids "shouting" at the audience, according to new neuroscientific research.

A study for Thinkbox, the commercial TV marketing body, by Neuro-Insight, a specialist in consumer neuroscience market research, analysed more than 150 ads, coding each of them against over 50 different creative factors to identify which were most strongly correlated with long-term memory encoding (LTME) at key branding moments.

Classic story-telling techniques were an important route to achieving memorability: having branding cues interspersed through the ad's narrative, for example, gave a 9% higher memory encoding response at the final branding, compared to ads where the brand was only weakly present throughout the story.

At the same time, ads where a product was intertwined within the narrative of the ad elicited a 17% higher memory encoding response than ads that went for the hard product sell.

Ads emphasising hard facts and scientific information were on average in the lowest performing quarter of all the ads tested for LTME, indicating that overt selling is not a very effective way to be remembered.

The personal touch was also important. Ads featuring a high level of human interaction – such as conversation or affection – elicited memory encoding responses 10% higher than those with a low level.

The presence of a celebrity generally had a negligible impact, the study found, with one exception being if the celebrity delivered a call to action; in those cases viewers showed 13% higher levels of memory encoding for that particular bit of the ad.

The use of appropriate music – with lyrics or cadence matched to what was seen on screen – could generate a 14% higher memory encoding response. And while all forms of music performed well, older music had the best results, with music dating back to before 2000 having an 8% higher response than more recent chart hits.

Some creative factors make no difference, however, including the ethnicity of characters in TV ads and the the portrayal of women in 'traditional' or 'non-traditional' female roles.

"There is no reason for creative agencies to be cautious or conservative when casting and scripting ads," the study noted.

Data sourced from Thinkbox; additional content by Warc staff