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Advertising in Times of Crisis

By Billy Nascimento

How neuroscience can help advertisers create effective ads to communicate with consumers during the crisis in Brazil

Since 2014, Brazil has been experiencing one of the most complex crises of its history. Brazilian society has been subjected to serious political, financial and environmental problems that together create great instability and a fragile emotional mind state for the population. Depression and lack of optimism create a direct impact on consumers, changing behavior both consciously and unconsciously. 

Previous studies have established that decisionmaking is directly influenced by emotions. The motivational system, responsible for emotional reactions, is subdivided into the appetitive and defensive systems. The defensive system is activated in response to threat and it is responsible for defensive reactions like fear, anxiety and stress. A major crisis leads to the activation of the defensive system, inducing a more conservative behavior that includes lower brand loyalty, higher aversion to risk, and reduced consumption. Changes observed in consumer behavior also affected the way people responded to different communication strategies undertaken during this period. The present study compared several communication strategies to understand which were the most effective for communicating with this new consumer mindset. Using neuroscience, the knowledge generated by the study allows brands to take advantage of ad strategy.

Analyzing the best brand communication strategies

In order to optimize investments in communication, brands could obtain an advantage in understanding the behavioral changes in consumer’s perception, allowing them to create more valuable and efficient strategies. To assess which were the best brand communication strategies during the crisis, we used BRAIN, the biggest database of TV Ads analyzed by neuroscience methods available in Brazil (over 600 TV Ads). Monthly, Forebrain conducts an independent study analyzing TV Ads in a standard methodology, creating a normative database. Through an online platform, BRAIN displays an analytic system to deep dive into detailed results in the ad database. Different dashboards display EEG (electroencephalography) and eye-tracking data that enables second-by-second analysis, comparative ranking and even a normative benchmark analysis. Comparisons among gender, age and social level are also available in BRAIN.

Thirty-three ads were selected from the database as the most representative in responding to the Brazilian crisis. Films directly addressing this issue, offering special bonuses or discounts, talking about environmental actions or highlighting Nationalism, were included. Each film was carefully analyzed and the most important results were then selected for each one. All results were cross-referenced considering the TV Ads characteristics, execution, relevant target, and previous reflection of the Behavioral Economy. These comparisons resulted in strategic insights presented through 25 cases illustrating the guidelines created in the study. The final study illustrates, objectively and practically, the strategies which obtained the best and worst results regarding responses in the participant’s attentional engagement, motivation, and memorization. Cases also considered brand and product perception by combining EEG and eye-tracking measurements. 


The study showed that in times of adversity, brands promoting rational offers, messages focused on social support, relevant contexts, and consumer empowerment were all perceived as effective engagement strategies. With consumers becoming increasingly selective about choices, a clear brand positioning with respect to the crisis scenario represents an important differential in its customer perception of advertising.

Among the various results, one illustrates the power of safety messages coupled with economic benefits through offers and promotions that have an impact on the motivational responses. FIAT created a campaign with special offers presented by a famous Brazilian TV host. In the first TVC, the host emphasizes the advantages of buying a FIAT, focusing his message on economic concepts of investment, valuation of assets, and future selling benefits. Thus, the brand transmitted a security message and results showed the film was perceived as highly motivational among upper echelons (AB1), but considered negative by middle-class consumers (B2C1). On the second TVC from the same campaign, FIAT changed its message to offer short-term benefits like paid property taxes and bonus cash of R$ 10,000 for trading in a used vehicle. Still focusing on security, the new film has dramatically changed its results by changing its message emphasis from long to short-term benefits. In this case, both the upper and middle classes were equally highly motivated.

Forebrain: www.forebrain.com.br
Contact: Billy Nascimento

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