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Improving Advertising Effectiveness

By Peter Pynta

A research project conducted on behalf of National Australia Banks’ (NAB’s) Wealth Management division (MLC) had short-term and long-term goals:
• The immediate goal was to improve the performance of a current advertising campaign, specifically to improve the brand linkage of the television commercial
• The longer-term, and more important goal was to develop and refine an intellectual framework or currency, based on the neuroscience findings.

This would inform all those involved in advertising development – the client, creative agencies, media buyers, media network, and market researchers -  and give them a powerful foundation to underpin advertising development and execution.

The notion of a “currency” was suggested because the metrics used by Neuro-Insight had already, up to this point, informed both creative and media action points and given the basis for a true 360-degree approach. This meant that components of the clients’ marketing investment were optimized ‘as a whole’ rather than independently and paved a “best practice” process of collaboration with creative, media strategists and media vendors all playing a complementary role in the rejuvenated campaign approach.


The approach adopted was to evaluate the then-current MLC television advertisements using Steady State Topography (SST). Steady-State Topography is a methodology used to measure brain activity patterns associated with specific psychological processes such as Long-term Memory Encoding, Engagement, Approach-Withdraw, Emotional Intensity and Visual Attention. Long-term memory encoding at times of explicit branding was the key SST measure that we focused on in our analysis, as it has been previously linked to correct brand linkage in tracking as well as likely consumer behavior.

We prepared a naturalistic TV program environment in which the various MLC brand TVCs were embedded. The input material ranged from 60-second launch commercials, through to 30 and 15 second variants for the same brand. The sample comprised 50 participants recruited to reflect MLC’s target audience, giving an optimum mix in terms of age, gender, and financial literacy. The SST metrics were combined with the client’s existing tracking data, which proved to be an important part of the methodology. We found that the integration of campaign tracking diagnostics with neuroscience results resulted in an enhanced level of understanding, showing not just what was happening (strong recognition, but poor brand linkage) but also explaining why this was taking place.

The findings indicated that long-term memory encoding at key branding moments was well below the benchmark level that we have identified as being required for effective brand communication. This was consistent with the poor brand linkage previously identified, and the reason behind this pattern of memory encoding was fascinating, as an example of Conceptual Closure. Neuro-Insight has previously published evidence about the occurrence of Neuro Conceptual Closure in communications storytelling. This is a specific pattern of processing that occurs when the narrative transitions from one event to another, that is, during an event boundary. During these transitions, memory encoding can all significantly, as the brain allocates neural resources to processing the previous piece of narrative and storing it as a discrete “event”. In the case of television advertising, if key branded moments occur immediately after a point of transition, the performance or effectiveness of branding is significantly reduced. 

The identification of conceptual closure in the MLC ads explained why brand linkage was very low in the tracking data. Neuro-Insight was able to provide specific advice on how to manage Conceptual Closure so that it did not compromise branding, and the changes that we recommended were incorporated in the second wave of the MLC advertising campaign (Wave 2). A subsequent 50-participant SST study on the revised (Wave 2) advertising was conducted, and this indicated a very significant improvement; long-term memory encoding at branding was approximately 50% higher than that in the results from the original research.

The collaboration process

This was the crucial stage of the project, where the broad-based collaboration of all creative and media stakeholders came to the forefront. The key focus here was to achieve strong brand linkage in the subsequent campaign by aligning all stakeholder contributions. All stakeholders were involved from the start of the process, and the SST findings were used to inform the creative agency, the media agency and media supplier. A detailed understanding of what creative elements were triggering Conceptual Closure was successfully used by all stakeholders to drive creative changes, whilst preserving the key elements of the original

Optimized campaign returns

Consistent with the Neuro-Insight findings for the revised Wave 2 advertising, independent tracking indicated that the revised campaign performed extremely well. Ad recognition achieved record-breaking levels, and spontaneous brand awareness achieved the highest level ever recorded by the client. The commercial success of the campaign was recognized when it was given an Effie advertising effectiveness award in the Financial Services category in 2015. Finally, and most importantly, the campaign was commercially effective, in that there was a significant uplift in incremental Funds Under Management. Conclusions. We found that the SST-based findings offered a powerful way of facilitating effective collaboration between the client and all the parties involved in a major advertising campaign.

Two factors were crucial in making this collaboration possible. Firstly, all parties had to have confidence in the research methodology and findings. Methodological transparency was extremely important here; specifically, the stakeholders needed to understand that the methodology and specific measures reported were scientifically validated and that this validation was supported by relevant peer-reviewed publications. Secondly, and of equal importance, was the extent to which the findings led to actionable insights, in a way that was clear and understood by all parties. With these two factors in place, an effective piece of advertising research was elevated to provide the more wide-ranging framework and currency that the client had been seeking.

This article was originally published in the Neuromarketing Yearbook. Order your copy today