Holiday ads - the brain's perspective
Center Parcs - BearsNeuro-Insight's CEO, Heather Andrew, exclusively sheds light on the subconscious impact of five of the latest holiday ads.
While the winter chill is still fresh, holiday advertisers are making sure that our minds are on the sunny breaks ahead. The most recent wave of holiday ads all take a step beyond generic beaches and happy families - but some do it more effectively than others.
Neuro-Insight researched five of the latest holiday ads - from Travel Republic, Booking.com, TravelSupermarket, Thomas Cook and Center Parcs - to assess how some very different creative approaches fly or fall at a subconscious level.
The brain's subconscious processes are particularly important for advertisers to understand, with research proving that measurements including memory encoding and emotional response have better correlations with decision-making and purchase intent than traditional measures such as recall.
Brain response to advertising isn't about giving a pass or fail verdict - neuroscience analysis of ads includes variables that, together, can indicate how an ad performs and how its impact can be maximised.
The following analysis of the 2016 holiday ads describes the 'hits' and 'misses' for each piece of creative, discussing the influence of various elements including narrative, repetition and more specific executional factors that all influence our subconscious responses.
Booking.com - Best 2016 ever
Booking.com is effective in driving memory response by exploiting two things that the brain responds positively to - patterns/ repetition and a consistency between sight and sound. In this ad, the repetition of '2016' works well and the alignment of visuals and voiceover is very effective.
We found emotional response to be positive throughout, aided by numerous camera zoom-ins which have the effect of metaphorically drawing people into the action.
However, the ad's third and final instance of '2016', combined with a break in the soundtrack, signals to the brain that the narrative that it has been following has come to an end. This triggers an effect that we call "conceptual closure" - a processing pause in brain response that occurs as the brain processes and files away the events it has just seen.
As a result of this effect, memory response at the ad's end branding is low, meaning that people are less likely to attribute the ad to the brand.
Verdict: They get a lot of things right, but in the end it's another MISS.
Travel Republic - Welcome to The Travel Republic
Travel Republic uses music to link together a series of holiday vignettes and this helps to drive fairly good memory encoding response throughout this ad. The visuals of happy people and close-ups of faces also contribute to a largely positive emotional response - our brains tend to engage well with shots of human faces.
However, when the song stops, memory encoding responses drop (in a similar effect to the Booking.com creative) and therefore end branding isn't well encoded by respondents.
Verdict: Unfortunately for a happy ad, in terms of branding impact it's a MISS.
TravelSupermarket - Holiday Like a German
Travel Supermarket uses linear narrative to drive memory encoding all the way to the end branding. Although memory encoding starts relatively flat, as the central character starts to move through his holiday day brain response picks up.
The quick transition from the story to the branding moment works well; it comes at a point when the brain expects the story to continue (in large part due to the intonation of the German character). The brain is ready to pick up on the next scene and, as a result, end branding is associated with strong memory encoding.
The humour and bright visuals contribute to a positive emotional response throughout including, crucially, the end branding moment.
Verdict: Not the strongest responses we've ever seen but, on the whole, a HIT.
Thomas Cook - Be Bold
Thomas Cook uses tension in the changing part of the soundtrack, which keeps the brain well engaged. As the music starts, coinciding with the boy dancing, we see a strong memory encoding response.
However, responses decline from this point: the brain has now 'got it' - here's a boy, on holiday, dancing - and doesn't need to work hard again until there's a new development: a break in the music. This creates a sense of tension and also adds an element of intrigue to the storyline, which drives memory encoding.
As the narrative develops in the second half of the ad, memory encoding is maintained and the final break in the music, with the "be bold" tagline, elicits a final peak of memory response that is maintained through to end branding.
Emotionally the ad is also doing well, with positive responses trending upwards throughout, resulting in a strong and positive association with final branding.
Verdict: Good memory and emotional responses make this ad a HIT.
Center Parcs - Bears
The Center Parcs ad benefits from a developing linear story combined with a strong sense of intrigue, a combination that our brains find highly compelling. This is reflected in a strong memory encoding response, reflected in conscious recall measures, which showed Center Parcs to be recalled by 74% more people than the average for the other ads in the study.
As the narrative unfolds, the pattern of bears doing human activities becomes apparent to the brain (we see a clear 'aha' moment in brain response early in the ad), and the brain keeps following the ad as the story develops.
The ad makes excellent use of a problem/solution format: at the beginning, the bears' facial expressions and visually darker scenes convey a sad mood which triggers withdrawal at key points in the narrative, but the mood of the ad lifts as the visuals lighten and the bears reach their holiday destination.
This results in a very positive emotional response at end branding; likely to help create or reinforce positive emotional associations with the brand. Finally, the brand and tag line serve to explain what has gone before, making them essential to understanding the narrative; so the final branding moment is associated with a strong peak of memory encoding.
Verdict: Narrative and intrigue combine to make this our biggest HIT and the clear winner from this bunch of ads.