Neuroscience Proves That Adjacent Content Increases Ad Recall

Since the dawn of advertising, marketers have used a myriad of tactics to “get in the head” of a desired audience. Who are they? What makes them tick? And will they respond to our messaging? Over time, the industry started to embrace the fact that deep audience insights lead to more successful ad campaigns.

Today, our market research toolkit has evolved alongside the many technological and scientific advancements of the last several years. We’ve moved beyond self-reported surveys and focus groups to more sophisticated measurements of biometrics, facial decoding and eye tracking. Not only has this new wave of insights strengthened our business pitches, but it’s also helped confirm long-standing beliefs about what works.

One of those beliefs (that is closest to our hearts at Pandora) is that a personalized, emotive environment increases ad effectiveness. Let’s take a second to think back to the last time you heard a familiar song. It’s likely you felt nostalgic, happy or even energized. No matter what emotion you felt, odds are you were completely leaned into the experience. It’s these moments that make consumers more receptive to brand messages. It’s bigger than just personalizing the script or creative, it’s the quality of surrounding content that makes a difference.

At Pandora, the power of an uncluttered environment combined with the emotional context of music is something we’ve seen in campaign performance reports, through word-of-mouth feedback from our brand partners and in our own personal lives as listeners. But now we have the neuroscience to back it up.

Introducing…Stream of Consciousness

The What

Pandora partnered with Neuro-Insight, a world leader in neuroscience-based market research, to determine if a personalized music listening experience creates more memorable advertising. We looked at this in the context of our own platform and in comparison with traditional and emerging media formats like radio, TV and mobile video.

To collect the data, Neuro-Insight used a proprietary technology called Steady-State Topography (SST) to track participants’ brain activity in real-time while each person was exposed to a predetermined stimulus. SST utilizes a headset and visor that records brain activity via sensors on the scalp. (This video shows exactly how it works.)

SST was originally invented by Dr. Richard Silberstein and his team of neuroscientists at Swinburne University in Australia, and is now being used to help brands develop more strategic brand communication and media. Neuro-Insight doesn’t ask any questions during the study–they just monitor, record and interpret what’s going on in the brain.

The How

In October and November 2016, 100 Pandora listeners–split equally between the A18-34 and A35+ age demos–were asked to participate in the study at Neuro-Insight’s New York headquarters. In groups of four, participants were outfitted with SST hardware to measure the brain’s response to a simulated Pandora experience. Each session consisted of 25-30 minutes of music personalized with songs from each participant’s favorite Pandora stations. Six pre-selected audio ads were peppered into the personalized music experience while Neuro-Insight passively monitored the brain response elicited.

“We hypothesized that ads served in a high-quality, personal and emotive environment would lead to a superior neurometric response compared to the norms Neuro-Insight has established for other media types,” said Keri Degroote, Vice President of Research & Analytics at Pandora. “We were anxious to explore collecting data in this new way–and were even more encouraged by what it told us about the power of contextual relevance.”

What We Learned

We found that ads served alongside personalized, emotive content had greater resonance with the listener, leading to more memorable and engaging campaigns than what is typically found on other media formats.

Lesson #1: Audio ads in this study served within Pandora’s personalized environment were 49% more memorable than Neuro-Insight’s established norms for a terrestrial radio spot.

Lesson #2: Audio ads in this study served within Pandora’s personalized environment were 36% more memorable than Neuro-Insight’s established norms for a TV commercial.

Lesson #3: Audio ads in this study served within Pandora’s personalized environment were 29% more memorable than Neuro-Insight’s established norm for a mobile video ad.

The Stream of Consciousness study confirmed our belief in the power of personalized, emotive content to increase advertising effectiveness. We found that the quality of adjacent content is just as important as the quality of the ad itself. On a subconscious level, consumers respond well to content served in an environment that is personally relevant and taps into their emotions.

“We have seen the impact of a strong context on advertising in other studies. We have also seen how emotionally powerful sound can be as a medium. In this case, the combination of personal relevance and music in the Pandora environment was received with high memorability, engagement and emotional intensity compared with other media norms,” confirmed Pranav Yadav, CEO of Neuro-Insight US Inc. Moreover, these results were consistent across both age groups tested.

So What’s Next?

Across many of their studies, Neuro-Insight has discovered that a positive neurometric response leads to higher engagement and greater long-term memory encoding. Both are “holy grails” for brands looking to connect with an audience through effective advertising. The secret is to think beyond the ad itself and consider how the surrounding content might add to or detract from the campaign’s success.

To learn more about how Neuro-Insight is revolutionizing how we understand advertising performance and effectiveness, you can find more of their research findings here. And for a quick summary of the Stream of Consciousness study, check out the infographic below:

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