The study, conducted by NeuroFocus, presented the same Visa ad in three viewing contexts: a typical televison ad “pod,” and as an embedded video on a Visa website and Facebook. The subjects’ brain activity was monitored using EEG technology to assess three metrics that are part of the Neurofocus analysis: attention, emotional engagement, and memory retention. As shown by the chart below, the results were a little mixed.
If we accept the Neurofocus measurements at face value, it seems that both websites scored better in attention, with the ad doing best on the contextually related Visa corporate site. Echoing the website comparisons, the socially-oriented Facebook context provided the best level of emotional engagement. Surprisingly, although television was the worst performer in the first two categories, it was tops in memory activation. Neurofocus combined the metrics and declared Facebook to be the best overall performer.
Not So Fast…
Before shifting most of our ad budgets to Facebook, there are a few limitations of this data. First, we are relying on the idea that NeuroFocus can accurately determine “memory retention” and the other metrics from the flood of digital data that pours out of their EEG headsets. (These headsets measure minute electrical field variations at the subject’s scalp.) Second, if we grant that NeuroFocus has enough data and experience to back up those claims, we don’t know that an individual advertiser’s business goals will be achieved by scoring high in those metrics. (Of course, it’s hard to argue that attention, engagement, and memory are bad things.) Finally, the online video ad presentations may simulate real world viewer behavior somewhat less well than the TV simulation; while live TV viewers may have no choice but to passively view ads, web browsers seem more likely to find ways to avoid unwanted video ads. (Still, as consumers access increasing amounts of video content online, the opportunities to insert ads that can’t be readily bypassed are growing.)
Also, a different study by Innerscope Research showed that TV ads were more engaging than online ads (see Study: TV Branding Beats Online.) The Innerscope Research was funded by Fox Broadcasting, while the NeuroFocus work was done for Facebook.
Good News for Social Media
Even given the above limitations, I find the data encouraging for Web ads in general and and for social media sites in particular. The emotional activation that occurs from engaging with friends and family seems to confer a halo effect on ads presented in that context. I’m eagerly awaiting more work in this area that validates and extends these interesting findings.