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The Academie > ... > Advertising And The Brain > Advertising And Attention

Emotion and Ads

  • Emotion shapes our unconscious reactions to advertising
  • Emotions shapes and controls our conscious thought about brands, products and services.

  • Ads need to be noticed.
  • Ads need to be designed to attract an emotional response.
  • Ads need to be remembered.
  • Memory is tied to how often one sees the ad.

  • The memory shapes consumers’ buying behavior.
  • The memory of the ad has to be linked to the buying behavior.


  • Create ads that have emotional impact
  • Make sure ads are seen often enough to become memorable
  • Make sure the ads influence buying behavior.

Also - Make sure your audience understands the message you are sending. They are not trained in the language of advertising. They will react to based on their current situation and their memories.

What grabs attention

In tests, there is a 25% increase in purchases for products that were advertised, than when the ads were not seen. But this is only partly true:
  • One in five ads had 94% increase in purchases in the short term.
  • Two out of five advertisements had a positive result.
  • One in five had little effect
  • One in five the ad had a negative effect - most likely competing ads were better or these ads were offensive in some way.

The author recommends improving ads that bring positive results. And starting over with ads that had little or negative effect.

  • Management of a company is often not the best judge of an ad. Use focus groups. Note that the author of The Advertised Brain runs a Market Research firm.
Source: The Advertised Mind 2005

Paying attention

There seems to be a huge cross over effect between the same ads in different media formats. The same neuronal sets are fired by each media.

In Print Ads

Factors related to paying attention
  • the arousal level of the person – that is, how awake he or she is;
  • the existing neural networks that can be stimulated;
  • the loudness or size of the stimulus.

Color two page spreads are most memorably while small black and white ads are normally least memorable.

  • To Scan a double page ad takes 2.8 seconds
  • To scan a half page or less ad takes 0.6 seconds

  • Read a 3/4 page or larger ad takes 5 seconds
  • To read a .25 page or smaller ad takes 1.5 seconds.

Conclusion - people don't read much in the ads. Not much reading takes place in 5 seconds. The less text, the more memorable the ad.

In TV Ads

  • People decide whether to pay attention to ads within the first 10 seconds, often as little as 3 seconds.
  • Those first seconds need to be emotion packed, not loud. The emotions should be positive.

Ads are getting less and less memorable. There too many of them.

  • In the US often there is over 20 minutes an hour of ads.
  • The average American is exposed to over 1000 ads a week, more than this in Japan. In Belgium and Denmark, about 200.
  • Ads in Belgium and Denmark have more impact, according to studies.
  • Many US TV stations are using time compression on shows to shorten them.
  • In every market the best 10 per cent of ads are more than five times more effective than the weakest 10 per cent
  • Ads that are best remembered don't always translate to increased sales.
  • Longer ads are more memorable than shorter ads, but this is not a proportional increase. A medium length ad may be more cost effective.
  • The first few times people see an ad they learn from it. Subsequent times are just reminders it exists.

Internet banner ads

  • Are mostly not seen.

Conscious and Unconscious learning

Conscious learning is when you seek information and data to make a purchase decision. Reading reviews, compare features.

Each person interprets ads based on personal experience.

Media Planning and Attention

Cost of Media Schedule = Number of People Reached × Frequency × Attentioning Enhancements where:

  • Number of People Reached = People exposed to the advertisement (Reach)
  • Frequency = How often they are exposed
  • Attentioning Enhancements = The extra cost of bigger space, longer time, colors added, sound added, etc.

Why people like ads

  • are likeable: that is, they offer a reward for watching;
  • are visual rather than verbal;
  • say something important and meaningful about the brand.
  • They are entertaining,
  • Relevant
  • Inspires empathy

Disliked ads

  • Are familiar
  • Alienating
  • Confusing

What is entertaining?

  • Clever, fun, energizing
  • It went beyond a sales pitch.
  • Likable, engaging characters
  • Something that makes you think of it afterwards
  • Funny


  • Inspired viewer to be creative - get new ideas
  • Reminded me of dissatisfaction and that I need something better
  • Learned something new
  • Informed me of the product
  • Engaged me in thinking how useful the product would be.


  • Realistic
  • Acting out what I feel
  • I felt I was there feeling the same things in the commercial
  • That's my idea of .... reflected archetypes
  • It seemed personal, made for me

Brand reinforcement

  • This is a good company and I'd recommend it.
  • This compan is dependable and reliable.


This is the biggest danger in an ad. Confused = Ignore the Commercial.
  • Sound track, voice over did not match graphics
  • Took too much effort to watch.
  • Too complex, I didn't follow what was happening
  • Images were so busy I did not listen.


  • I've seen others just like this - same old thing
  • I've seen this very commercial too many times.
  • It's new for this product type, but I've seen the same thing done for other products.


  • They didn't demonstrate their claims
  • This has nothing to do with me
  • There was nothing that made me want to use the product
  • They exaggerated too much, it won't be as good as promised.
  • Too far fetched.
  • It was annoying

Creating Confusion

  • too many scenes
  • too many objectives
  • Relevance of information is outdated.
  • Doesn't compete or differentiate from competitors.
  • Ill used humor - if the context is lost or offensive you have lost.

Memories for left and right brains

  • Recognition is right brained, recall is left brained.

The brand

  • The brand exists as a neural network of memories.
  • The authors see the mental response as a synonym of brand representation.
  • The brand name functions as the label of representation.
  • the brand name as ‘the key that unlocks memories’.
  • There is only one memory that matters, and that is the memory of the brand.

Test this - read a list of words - mix brands, products and other words. Many words we have no emotional connection to. Others we have a very strong reaction to.

  • Astrology is one of the words that most people have very strong emotions linked to it - either positive or negative. Few are neutral.

The first part of a memory is the soma, the emotional marker connected to the brand or word. This initial image is the one sent to the limbic system for review.

We also have a trained set of words associated with each brand that has been embedded with years of advertising exposure.

  • In the Pepsi- Coke challenge done with MRI
    • In blind tests people who liked pepsi "the ventral putamen was five times as active when drinking Pepsi than that of Coke fans when drinking Coke."
    • When the Coke was identified before tasting "almost all the subjects said they preferred Coke. What’s more, the brain activity of the subjects was now different. There was also activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that scientists say governs high-level cognitive powers. Apparently, the subjects were meditating in a more sophisticated way on the taste of Coke, allowing memories and other impressions of the drink – in a word, its brand – to shape their preference."
    • When the Pepsi was identified before tasting "announcing which tastes were of Pepsi, far fewer of the subjects said they preferred Pepsi. Montague was impressed: he had demonstrated, with a fair degree of neuroscientific precision, the special power of Coke’s brand to override our taste buds.

Just the mention of a brand is enough to override the taste buds.

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Last edited May 28, 2009 (history)

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