Initial Neuro Research Examines Where Audio Trumps Visual—And the Implications for Brands
There are numerous steadfast rules for media and marketing, long held by the industry as a matter of common sense. Mindshare’s NeuroLab is here to bust them. By challenging long-held marketer assumptions around ad creative, storytelling, and more, the NeuroLab team will create new opportunities for brands to connect with consumers and elevate their work.
Launched in the New York office of Mindshare U.S., the global media agency network of WPP, the NeuroLab uses medical-grade EEG (electroencephalogram) and GSR (galvanic skin response) technology to measure second-by-second, non-conscious neurological responses to brand stories and media. The NeuroLab supplements the data from these neurological responses with pre-and-post Implicit Association Tasks (implicit bias testing), as well as quantitative survey responses.
“Challenging the status quo is in our DNA and long-held institutional knowledge is now on the chopping block,” said Adam Gerhart, CEO, Mindshare U.S. “We invested in the NeuroLab and this myth busting program because it’s not just about staying on top of changes in media and technology, but actively pressure testing ideologies for our clients and the industry. And there was no better place to start than with a medium that has experienced such a renaissance: audio.”
In addition to the initial research on audio storytelling, the NeuroLab will interrogate other industry myths throughout 2019 and 2020, including rules around creative branding, attention spans, customization, reach versus frequency, and more. It’s not just about rejecting the status quo, but doing so to raise the bar for clients and teams—industrywide provocation with purpose.
Neuro Research: Your Head and Your Heart Want Two Different Things
After measuring their neurological responses, the NeuroLab surveyed participants to see how they felt about the ads they’d seen. Respondents said that they preferred the same brand story told just visually 22% more versus just audibly.
But their non-conscious neurological responses had told another story. Neuro research found that while participants thought they wanted one thing, their subconscious feelings wanted something else. That’s not to dismiss other research methodologies out of hand—but shows how neuro can reveal what people don’t actually know or understand about themselves.
“Sound and the human experience are intimately and neurologically linked. It’s the first language we learn, and from infancy is processed faster and with greater emotional prioritization than any of our other senses,” says Arafel Buzan, Co-Lead, NeuroLab. “But the longstanding rule in creative, that storytelling requires sight, sound, and motion, has also insisted that sight is the most important part of that equation. So while over the years marketers have made the choices to buy visual-only mediums, the industry has largely devalued the potential of sound existing on its own for storytelling. Marketers haven’t truly interrogated just how powerful sound itself can be.”
The NeuroLab, led by Buzan and Mindshare’s James Kelly, is busting the myth that sight trumps sound. Here is what they found:
1) Audio ads elicit much stronger emotions from consumers.
- Brand stories told just audibly elicited an average of 21% higher emotional intensity than brand stories told just visually.
- Brand stories told just audibly elicited an average of 50% more positive emotional peaks than brand stories told just visually.
2) Consumers are much more receptive to audio branding and calls-to-action.
- At the moment of end branding, audio stories elicited 18% higher average positive emotional response than visual-only stories. This resulted in a more positive encoding of the brand.
- When comparing audio-only ads to visual-only ads or ads that have both, audio was the only one with a consistent increase in emotional engagement for the end branding.
- In contrast, consumers were much more likely to shut off emotionally by the end of visual-only or combined ads. There is something about audio ads that makes calls-to-action uniquely positive emotional experiences for consumers.
In addition, implicit bias testing also showed that brand stories told just audibly elicited three times more positive brand associations than brand stories told just visually—though not as much as combined audio/visual stories.
3) Love is a story best told between the ears.
- The research found 40% higher emotional intensity for audio brand stories that mentioned “love” when compared to visual-only brand stories that mentioned love.
- There’s also much more to explore with the personal connection of audio. For example, 20% of all strong positive emotional peaks in audio occurred during the word “you.”
The next phase of Mindshare U.S.’s analysis will dive more deeply into this kind of data, focusing on specific brand nuances and categories across beauty, retail, travel, and luxury. Additionally, phase two will further explore the relationship between neuro performance and measured performance of each tested ad.
Audio and the Future of Media
Mindshare U.S. has already been on the cutting edge of audio for the past couple of years, with offerings for clients such as the Mindshare Discovery Risk Index (which assesses a brand’s risk profile for disruption in an audio commerce space), a series of customized audio workshops to determine what a sonic framework would look like, brand strategies around “incidental loyalty” and more.
“Brands who underestimate the storytelling power of audio do so at their own risk,” says Joe Maceda, Chief Instigation Officer, Mindshare U.S. “If you’re heavily investing in silent videos, display ads, or other visual media, the research shows audio is likely a more critical component. It’s time for marketers to take a deeper approach and assess how they can best leverage this medium.”
Test Group Demographics and Methodology
The team quantified the storytelling power of each sense (audio versus visual) for participants using neurophysiological metrics such as emotional intensity and arousal, valence (like/dislike), and recall. They also measured subconscious association with specific brand adjectives to explore how stories on each platform drive association of key brand goals.
This initial research examined 90 respondents between the ages of 18-54. Although all 90 came from the greater New York region, they were recruited to be nationally representative across household incomes, ethnicity, and education levels as seen in the U.S. Census. Recruits were music streamers (those who use Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, or Amazon Music) with no pre-existing neurological conditions and right-hand dominance—and who did not work in the ad industry.
Why specifically 90? Previous academic research in behavioral sciences has shown that sample sizes of 30 respondents achieve statistical significance with EEG data. By using a sample size of 90, the NeuroLab can further cut the data by gender, age, or other survey attributes in phase two of the research analysis.