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Spotlight

Heather Andrews, Neuro-Insight

In the first of our Spotlight series, Heather Andrews from Neuro-Insight talks about how neuroscience can inform advertising.

‘Neuro-Insight’ focus on memory and how the best brand communications are encoded. Particularly in relation to AV, there are three triggers behind this; a brilliant narrative with the brand woven through the story, message relevance and ensuring any brand piece evokes an emotional response. This all makes sense.

However, there are two areas of specific interest that always spark debate; the position of the brand within the story and message relevance.

Position in Story: “what’s this ad for?”

Whilst Heather has shared the generalities of her findings, as she would state herself, it is important to remember that there are numerous examples of fantastic effective ads, where the brand only appears at the end of the commercial. Just consider Cadbury Gorilla and Sony Balls. On release of the Sony Bravia TVC, shops sold out of product within weeks, whilst Cadbury Gorilla changed the category. In both of these ads, the viewer was captivated by the idea, but the brand only appeared, as a reveal at the end.

Relevance: “is that me?”

For advertising to be successful, we would agree that the product needs to be relevant. If you are not in the market for nappies, no matter how wonderful the ad, you aren’t going to buy them. However, we would build on this point and say that the creative or situational piece need not have ‘personal’ relevance. For a piece of communication to be effective, it doesn’t (and arguable shouldn’t) need to depict my lifestyle. Whether a brand chooses an abstract platform like an animal, a cartoon character or equally someone at a different life-stage to me, it can still evoke a response. Consumers can connect the dots between the communicated idea, the brand and my need.

‘Situational relevance’ is not a factor in effectiveness. IKEA is a nice example of this. Their kitchen ads choose to portray their offers through hipsters, imaginary kid characters and monkeys. These are not situationally relevant to me, but yet deliver a clear message that is entertaining and engaging. Similarly, the Christmas ads for John Lewis annually depict animals, toys and snowmen – none of which reflect the viewer! But we all know the John Lewis success story. Their Christmas ads are hailed as some of the most loved ads with the retailer consistently recording bumper seasonal sales.

Against the backdrop of all of the above, let’s not forget about effective functional ads which don’t need any story. They are immediate call to action pieces looking to prompt a reaction. By hammering someone over the head with a phone number or price point, whilst not a strategy to encode long term to memory, it does allow the message to imprint over a shorter period. The obvious warning though is that they are not sustainable brand strategies, but simply short term tactics. You can only shout your message for so long, before you become wallpaper.

Attention : “what was that you said”?

Also worth pondering is the area of attention which Heather touches on. Her findings show that the younger generations have less “learned” attention due to the proliferation of new media and multi screening. It appears that this cohort have a reduced ability to focus and concentrate. This problem will get compounded as we continue to move through the technological era. This generational change means that brand communications of the future will need to be even more interesting if they are to be effective.

Neuroscience shares some interesting pointers and seeks to add a scientific process to ads and ideas. It is based on the premise that creativity and communications can be reduced to a science. Whether you believe that advertising is a science or not, one question we have is whether you believe that Neuroscience can account for abstract creative? A lot of the best creative work is exactly that, “Creative”. It works powerfully and sometimes exclusively at an emotional level. Whilst some general trends can be gleaned from this field of research and the process certainly could work for some brands, it’s worth remembering that the history of great advertising is littered with ideas that failed in research.