Creative decisions require leaps into the unknown – it is impossible to analyse your way to a brilliant idea  – but the greater accessibility of neuroscience testing techniques means that optimising for effectiveness has never been easier.

This is according to practitioners speaking at Walnut Unlimited's (in collaboration with WARC) latest Brainy Bar event in London, in which they were asked to consider the question of whether advertising is art or science? (For a full treatment, read WARC’s in-depth report: Is advertising art or science? Brainy Bar 8). Dr. Cristina de Balanzo, Consultancy Director, Walnut Unlimited, hosted the event.

Dan Bowers, Head of Planning at TMW Unlimited quoted from the Pixar filmmaker and former chief creative officer John Lasseter: “The art challenges the technology and the technology inspires the art.” The tension is as important in advertising as in art; each moves the other forward.

With an already strong neuro-insight offer, Unlimited group has worked to make those insights more accessible across the agency, especially to its non-experts. In addition to digests of complex academic research, it has devised a suite of testing templates, from reaction time testing (looking at implicit associations), to facial coding, to EEG tests uncovering deep emotional responses.

The agency has deployed these methodologies in a number of successful campaigns including those for Kinder and Unilever’s Lynx. In the Kinder case, planners were able to use implicit reaction testing at scale to uncover a different positioning for the brand.

For Lynx, the benefit was in the creative execution. It used facial coding to understand how to better cut the video and place the brand at key emotional moments.

Meanwhile, the Italian agency Ottosunove used a series of neurometric tests for the coffee brand Segafredo in Poland, in order to understand whether its existing creative execution was communicating the intended message. It was not. The results of the tests allowed the agency to re-storyboard the scene, keeping the creative idea but optimising the execution. “In the equation of art and science,” said Head of Planning Barbara Monteleone, “there’s a third thing, and that’s craft.”

For car brand Honda, the need to design creative at a continental scale and appeal to well-read car buyers led to their hire of creative production company Saddington Baynes, represented at the event by its CEO Chris Christodoulou. It began using neuroscience around five years ago to help optimise its creative according to four metrics: emotional pull, attribute resonance, fit-to-brand, and visual saliency. The company tested a variety of Honda creative images and were able to increase dwell time on the car brand’s site by a factor of six. Also speaking at the event Louise Furneaux, Marketing Communications Section Manager, at Honda, the car-maker's rationale was that the communications needed to shift the dial, and “we just needed to know that we were getting it right”.

Ultimately, these techniques are best used when they’re guiding ideas rather than creating them. Advertising is not art and it’s not science: it’s somewhere in between where each can enhance the other.

Sourced from WARC