Media Life Magazine: Engaging in one sense? Two? Try more

By Bill Cromwell

Most advertising is aimed at a single sense, or two. You see an ad in a magazine. You hear one on the radio. Or you’re watching TV and see and hear an ad. But other senses such as touch and taste are notably absent. That’s a big oversight, according to a recent trends report from Mindshare North America, which finds advertisers can achieve higher engagement by offering a multisensory experience. For instance, last fall Showtime released an app tied to hit show “Homeland” that included vibrating ads. And Volvo has used virtual reality to advertise via a Google platform. These campaigns can be more costly, but they can also offer a better return on investment because they are so arresting. It’s hard to ignore something that is vibrating in your hand. Mark Potts, head of insights at Mindshare North America, talks to Media Life about why multisensory ads are smart, how people are becoming more marketing savvy, and whether advertising technology is getting too invasive.

What did you find most interesting or most surprising about this study?

It was surprising to see how many consumers have grown savvy to the tactics that marketers use. For example, when shopping online, almost a third of U.S. consumers claim to have intentionally left items in a shopping basket in the hopes of receiving a discount from the store.

We’re teaching consumers how to play the game. How we acknowledge and build relationships from this is still open ground.

What’s the most important thing media buyers and planners can take from it?

To look at the existing media space with fresh eyes.

For example, the first things we saw that eventually led to our “New Narratives” trend were “Too Many Cooks,” a comedy short originally appearing in Adult Swim’s 4 a.m. infomercial block, and Virgin America’s Blah Airlines, a 6 hour pre-roll ad depicting an East-to-West Coast flight in real time.

Both are great examples of using existing ad inventory in new and headline-grabbing ways.

How can multi-sensory experiences enhance engagement?

Quite simply, neuroscience has found that the more senses we use when engaging with content or experiences, the more emotionally and cognitively attached we become–something called sensory integration. Highly multisensory experiences are much more likely to be remembered, from two weeks to 20 years down the road.

This is rule No. 9 in John Medina’s brilliant neuroscience book “Brain Rules.” Although the near-term scalability of technologies like virtual reality (VR) is doubtful, it strikes me that any opportunity to monopolize consumers’ attention and senses with a great experience should be seized.

Does it cost more to develop multi-sensory advertising?

The cost range is broad for these experiences–we’re talking about everything from vibrating in-app ads, like “Homeland’s” season four execution, to full-on 4D experiences like those by Marriott last year.

Do you foresee it becoming more common?

As both mobile and VR technology allow, yes.

We’re clearly seeing a lot of brands jumping into the Oculus Rift/VR space as they test out how to use–and as they look for some early tech PR buzz.

Why does creating or facilitating intimacy endear companies to consumers?

Through our lives we’re hard-wired to connect to each other.

The science has shown that intimacy, especially in face-to-face contact, heals us, extends our lives, helps us learn, and makes us happy (e.g. see Susan Pinker’s great book “The Village Effect”).

Some have suggested that technology is robbing us of this intimacy, though the narrative here is shifting as everything from FaceTime to the tech-facilitated sharing economy to the burst of new emojis testifies to how technology is creating new ways to connect.

Do consumers have any reservations about this sort of intimacy, considering privacy remains a concern for many about technology?

Our trend “Internet-Enabled Intimacy” covers a broad range of examples of this shift, and in many of our examples privacy isn’t a concern.

I imagine that the new ways of connecting that are coming with tech such as the Apple iWatch’s “Heartbeat” and “Tap” will be more readily taken up by tech early adopters and Millennials. These are two groups who tend to be more comfortable with privacy issues around technology.

That said, even if consumers don’t have reservations about it, marketers/advertisers still have a responsibility to be conscientious about the role they play in the “Internet-Enabled Intimacy” trend and to abide by privacy regulations.

How much has technology impacted our society’s tendency to skim? How does this impact advertising?

It’s just given us access to more stuff, with a platform (social media) to tell everyone we know about that stuff.

Combine that with a human instinct to show people that we know things before everyone else–or that we at least have some level of culturally literacy–and you have a world in which the only way to cope is to skim the surface.

From our study, 47 percent of Americans say that they prefer to browse headlines rather than read detailed information. For advertising it probably means front-loading your selling points and finding faster ways to tell your stories.

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