Media overload, or spoilt for choice?

Do audiences have room in their lives for more tech and will advertisers be able to maintain effectiveness across platforms? By Neuro-Insight's Heather Andrew.

Last year, the IPA TouchPoints project shone a light on a nation of "superhuman information absorbers", revealing that we spend almost half our waking hours consuming media or online information.

The year ahead looks to bring many new additions to our cluttered media landscape and raises the question of whether audiences have room in their lives for more tech – and if advertisers can maintain creative effectiveness across additional platforms.

However, despite screens having a formative effect on how we live our daily lives, they haven’t fundamentally altered our brain functions. In fact, a proliferation of media should result in more creative methods of communication.

Decades of neuroscience research provides some useful principles for advertisers looking to understand how their work can impact subconscious processes across all media platforms, which remain true no matter how many more spring up.

Attention spans (the long and short of it)

The first of these is that, despite headlines lamenting ever-shorter attention spans, when it comes to influencing perception and behaviour, our time spent with a brand is less important than how we remember it.

Are you creating entertainment, or creating memories?

Emotion seems a natural choice for marketers looking to make an impact with their messaging – it’s well-established that great advertising is often associated with strong emotions.

But even the greatest emotional ads can only have an impact if the information is stored into memory and associated with the brand. Otherwise what’s been created is great entertainment, but not necessarily great advertising.

Getting into the brand room

The key to making memories with your messaging is understanding how audiences perceive brands. The "brand room" is an analogy for the neural networks we create: a brand starts off as an empty room in our minds, furnished and decorated over time with new associations and perceptions gathered from different touchpoints.

However, these brand rooms mostly live in darkness as we go about our non-brand-focussed lives. The trick for marketers is not only to furnish them with lots of positive associations, but to illuminate them at the right time – typically, along the path to purchase.

The kinds of stimuli that act as light switches are referred to as iconic triggers – shortcuts to the network of associations that remind us of a brand. Logos and slogans are the most obvious examples, but they can also be specific colours, shapes, or even people. Some of the new, shorter dwell time media channels are perfectly suited to delivering these triggers.

Avoiding our built-in ad blocker

Given the volume of content advertisers are up against, subtle branding may not seem a sensible strategy. However, heavy-handed execution can often backfire as our brain naturally blocks overt selling messages.

More subtle, engaging methods to help audiences encode messaging into memory include personalisation and interaction, tools that typically light up areas of the brain which encourage us to store events into long-term memory – the portion most likely to influence future behaviour.

The mobile world is changing many of the rules of the game, but what we already understand about basic brain functions can be applied to almost any emerging platform. The fundamentals of emotion and memory are crucial, and new platforms offer the opportunity for increasingly creative solutions.

Heather Andrew is the UK CEO at Neuro-Insight.

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