Neuro-Insight CEO Peter Pynta argues that it’s time for your brand to stop sitting on the fence and that tapping into neuroanalytics to measure the response to a brand’s social stand can help you land the jump.

Nike’s 2018 “Dream Crazy” campaign was recently named the most effective campaign in the world by Effie Worldwide. The brand was clearly making a point when it cast the controversial basketball player Colin Kaepernick, who had been condemned by former US President Donald Trump for kneeling during a pre-game national anthem in protest against racial injustice in the United States.

The megabrand took a gamble on the campaign well before the Black Lives Matter movement had gathered pace and the authenticity of the move is an impressive hallmark of this campaign (and others like it). The proof was already in the pudding when Nike’s sales grew by 31% from Sunday through Tuesday over Labor Day, beating 2017’s comparative 17% increase. 

But how do other businesses with less brand momentum take a risk on making a stand? It’s not easy to talk about social causes and to do it well. In today’s polarised society, an opinion is never bound to make everyone happy.

What if brands of all shapes and sizes had a “window into the future consumer”? How could this help de-risk similar ventures and ensure that brands are championing social causes, such as pro-vaccination and diversity and inclusion, in a way that will resonate with their audience?

The risks of sitting on the fence are high in today’s day and age and brands are being forced to showcase their beliefs either way. The evidence is mounting – consumers want brands to align with their values.

Over a five-year period, those listed on Etisphere’s 2019 World’s Most Ethical Companies outperformed the large-cap sector by 14.4% and the Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey shows that this influential consumer group isn’t passive. They often put their wallets where their values are and will stop or initiate relationships based on how companies treat the environment, protect personal data and position themselves on social and political issues. 

Digital nativity is their power. Their ability to connect, convene and disrupt via their keyboards is putting insurmountable pressure on brands to take a stand and publicly align their values.

So obviously, it’s time to hop off the fence; the only question is if your brand will land its jump. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to wait for consumers to tell you what they really think with their hashtags and wallets. Marketers can use neuroscience to tap into their subconscious, understand their reactions and determine the effectiveness of the decision being made at a brand level – before the future unfolds.

Neuro-Insight happened to analyse “Dream Crazy” in July 2019 – after its Cannes Lions win across multiple categories when it first hit our screens. We made a call back then that the campaign was likely to be a success, not because we “thought” it was a good cause, but because the neuro data confirmed it.

Brain data is free of the biases that creep into conscious responses – the very biases that make it very difficult to untangle phenomena like Social Desirability Bias from fact. Marketers can test the sentiment towards ideas and actions by running surveys but consumers do not always know or are able to articulate how they feel. They can be inclined to answer in a way they think will be perceived favourably.

But when the brain responds to storytelling, it automatically determines what’s right, relevant or meaningful in the moment. It will let certain moments in and shut others out. So when we record the brain opening its doorway to memory, it’s a sign that a person is accepting a brand and their stand. It means that the campaign has subconsciously and automatically “pressed a hot button” in the brain. It’s one of the purest responses we can measure and it says a lot about a campaign’s future potential.

There is a significant body of literature about the way the brain stores memories and experiences – it only stores what it believes to be of “future importance”. This is why we rely so heavily on the observation of long-term memory encoding. It’s a window into how effective the campaign will be when it’s released into the real world and it helps us to evaluate if concepts that brands are trying to relay through advertising are resonating with a consumer.

Tapping into neuroanalytics to measure the response to a brand’s social stand is not limited to global power brands like Nike. This same approach can (and does) help brands of any size and reputation navigate the difficult-to-navigate territory of owning a social cause. Through neuroanalytics, we know that brands don’t have to make “likeable” ads, which consumers “say” are good in order to be effective.