In American Idol, Neuromarketing Style I noted that the Fox show I’d really like to see brain activity for was the ultra-intense drama 24. The combination of suspense, rapid-fire action, and occasional brutality would make for some interesting brain scans. But what of the ads that have to follow, say, a scene where a blowtorch-wielding Jack Bauer tries to extract information from an uncooperative villain? Neuromarketing reader Megan Zuniga commented that, “I think if they placed an ad whenever Jack is torturing someone, I doubt anyone would notice the ad.” My first inclination would have been to agree, but it turns out that research on a similar topic indicates the opposite.

Nielsen’s neuromarketing division, Neurofocus, conducted a study of ads on two types of programming: A&E’s emotionally intense Intervention and a popular dramatic show from another network. They used EEG measurements to assess attention and emotional engagement. Although no data was published in their report, the conclusions reached from the study were:

Neurological testing of viewers’ subconscious responses to both the Intervention program itself, and the six commercials shown within it, revealed that not only is there no negative rub-off for advertisers who place spots in this powerfully emotional programming—there are clear and unequivocal benefits as described below:

Program Content:
Overall Effectiveness: Intervention scored notably higher than the competitive drama. The Intervention score also remained at this consistently high level throughout, while the competitive drama declined in the second half.
Emotional Engagement: Intervention won handily in this category.

Advertising:
Overall Effectiveness: Three of the six commercials scored significantly higher in Intervention than in the competitive drama. The other three scored essentially the same in both programs.
Emotional Engagement: Intervention scored highest in each of the six advertising categories.
[From Nielsen Consumer Insight – Does Emotionally Powerful Programming Prime Advertising Effectiveness?.]

Neurofocus interpreted their results to mean that the emotional content of Intervention “primed” the viewers for the ads by increasing their emotional engagement.

Should advertisers seek out the most emotionally engaging shows they can find? It certainly seems possible that emotional programming could result in greater ad recall. There’s plenty of research showing that memories formed at moments of intense emotion (fear, happiness, etc.) can be more vivid and longer-lasting. At the same time, I think some caution is still necessary – would an ad for, say, power tools, work well if placed after a Jack Bauer torture scene? Perhaps it would.

(Note – the link to the Nielsen publication is a cached version; for some reason, the document was coming up “not found” at time of writing this. Original link is here.)

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