Two Seconds of Ad Exposure Insufficient for Brand Growth

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The attention measurement sector led by Karen Nelson-Field at Amplified Intelligence has established that the two main digital media segments that together represent nearly $350 billion in annual global ad spend  – social and short-form video, both of whose usage is mostly on mobile devices – have built-in platform effects which constrain the lion’s share of ad exposures to less than two seconds of attentive viewing.

YouTube’s 54321Skip platform can go as high as 4.5 seconds (with a small percent of higher outliers) but there the ad attention is shared with the Skip button.

Evidence is beginning to accumulate in neuroscience that in 1-2 or even 4.5 seconds of attentive viewing, it is physically impossible to cause the kinds of brain reactions known to be very highly predictive of sales effects.

At the Advertising Research Foundation’s AUDIENCExSCIENCE 2024 Conference (packed with world-class new findings), it was my honor to co-present the flash results of the FOX/Wharton Neuroscience Initiative/Bill Harvey Consulting 2024 Neuro study, whose full results will be released in May. Two Wharton leaders in the field, Elizabeth Johnson (known as Zab) and Michael Platt, and FOX EVP Audrey Steele and I presented the first 3% of the sample of a ten-cell study using a battery of neuro, biometric, and verbal measures of eight ads each representing a different major vertical. The ten cells are media types, including TV set and smartphone types such as social media and YouTube, seven types of television including streaming, and ads shown without any contexts as a quasi-control group baseline. The eight verticals together represent more than three quarters of all national advertising revenues.

Michael and Zab presented earlier work with major advertisers in which many different brain measures were analyzed to determine which brain metrics best predict sales. Three specific brain metrics stood out as being highly predictive of sales effects:

  1. Synchrony, which accounts for about 90% of sales effect, is when the sample population shows the same patterns at exactly the same times.
  2. Approach, the ratio of left:right frontal cortex Alpha wave activity. In this context also known as Brand Attraction.
  3. Memory Encoding.

All of these measures need more than a few seconds of attention to bloom, as shown by Michael’s charts showing the second-by-second buildup of these brain reactions.

Brand attraction/joy takes 15 seconds to peak
Non-premium digital's 1-2 seconds of attention can reinforce but rarely change behavior

This finally explains to me why the study TRA did with Comcast and Dunnhumby about ten years ago found that TV was more than twice as strong as digital at bringing in new brand customers. A few seconds of reminder advertising can have sales effect on existing customers, but it is not enough time to persuade a non-brand-buyer to give the brand a try. It’s because of the nature of these brain effects and the time they require. One more mystery solved.

This also explains to me why fewer than one in five brands studied grew market share over the past ten years, according to the FOX Bill Harvey Consulting MMM analysis of all major brands in verticals representing about half of all national ad spend. It was the over-shift to newer, lower cost platforms whose accessible metrics and younger skew suggested unproven long-term effectiveness.

Non-premium digital with its addressability, measurability, and interactivity (and walled garden ability to report results selectively) has made sales for sure – especially for direct response which enables landing pages that provide adequate seconds of attention to move the brain needle. But the current imbalance cutting deep into the TV muscle has constrained those sales to past customers, not to brand penetration growth.

Ironic considering that the number one cry by brands is for brand growth.

As TV catches up in addressability, measurability, and interactivity, the dollar pendulum will swing back, and wise brands will not wait for that before switching back to more TV weight in order to gain the jump on competitors.

With only 3% of the sample completed, only one new findings slide was presented by the FOX Wharton BHC team at ARF AxS 2024, combining all the different types of linear TV and streaming, and comparing that with YouTube:

Attraction and memory are sustained for ads shown
in premium channels compared to YouTube

What this shows is that TV sustains its sales-causing brain effects far longer than YouTube. In May of 2024 it will be fascinating to see how this compares for the different types of TV measured: broadcast prime, cable, sports, news, streaming, and for social media, TV set vs. mobile device, eight different verticals, and including the Synchrony metric, which requires more sample size.

The other thing that jumped out to me from this slide is how low the performance of advertising is without any media content around it. We have always wondered how much of advertising’s value comes from the media environment. The answer is that the media contribution is enormous. It may even be higher than the 35% of incremental sales estimated by TRA. RecentlyNCS estimated it at 39% for TV but far lower at 26% for digital. These latest big data singlesource and neuro findings are coming together to help industry understanding of WHY the flow of dollars away from TV is capping brand growth.

Posted at MediaVillage through the Thought Leadership self-publishing platform.

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