As a key US election year ramps up, candidates are putting out more and more sophisticated advertising than ever before, but new research indicates how neuromarketing techniques can optimise ads for a political audience.

New research from Neuro Insight in association with the Contently authors Joe Lazaukas and Shane Snow indicates how certain elements of current candidates for the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, are affecting 53 registered Democratic voters’ brain activity.

The study involved strapping Steady State Topography sensors to the voters’ heads and showing them NCIS and Modern Family in order to measure baseline brain activity before inserting Democratic ads in the breaks. (Full methodology here.)

Four metrics were assessed second-by-second: long-term memory encoding, engagement, whether the emotion experienced was positive or negative (technically known as approach or withdraw), and emotional intensity. So what does it suggest?

Warren’s unconventional structure is working

While much political advertising runs full tilt at an emotional communication strategy, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s ads showed a low emotional response. Conversely, Warren had three core branding moments that scored in the 90th percentile of all ads analysed by Neuro Insight, including all consumer ads it has explored, leading to the sample remembering and engaging with Warren’s ad the most. Particularly strong was her “I got a plan for that” line, which found very high levels of memory encoding.

Repetition, interestingly, seems to breed contempt when it comes to structuring an ad. The obligatory “I’m … and I approve this message” at the end of political ads tends to elicit slight increases in memory encoding (according to the results from Sanders and Biden ads that do just this) when it appears at the end. Warren, meanwhile begins with this message, allowing her to end on a much stronger, more powerful image of her in front of an applauding crowd, during which memory encoding rockets.

So what? Warren subverts conventions and focuses on key moments for memorable branding on top of rational messaging that builds on her policy chops.

Bernie mostly misses

In an oddly limp example, the Bernie Sanders ad registered the lowest of the three in terms of both memory encoding and engagement.

Lessons here are that his spot fails to tell much of a personal story – an idea evidenced by the fact that one of the strongest moments involves his having “taken on” bankers and big pharma. The other is that a lack of emotional uplift in the ad meant that an attack on Trump, which is often a successful tactic among Democratic voters, was unmatched by highly memorable moments of hope; it’s likely that voters not already behind Sanders would come away with an overall negative feeling about the whole election rather than about Trump.

Biden plays to nostalgia

Former Vice President Joe Biden is extremely well known, and his personal narrative triggers a strong emotional response, as does his appearance next to voters, and the eventual ‘Biden’ branding. His message, which tends toward the more generic, elicits a low emotional response and low encoding.

However, both Biden’s familiarity and the broadly warm feeling he elicits in Democrats will be difficult to shake. In this way, Biden’s long-term effects encapsulate three important lessons from behavioural economics in advertising: build fame, create good feeling, and make memories fluent.

Sourced from Gen by Medium, WARC