The creative advertising hacks of 2022 – Insights from cognitive neuroscience

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For years, marketers and advertisers have agonized what makes creative advertising succeed in capturing a consumer’s attention and then turning them into a long term customer.

What role does graphic design ads play in influencing the buying decision?
Recent developments in combining cognitive neuroscience and artificial intelligence have resulted in cutting-edge and easy-to-use software solutions that will be discussed in this article.

New perspectives and predictable consumer’s reactions to creative ads designs  are now possible thanks to cognitive neuroscience

What does cognitive neuroscience bring that we didn’t already know?

Well, it is simple, for years, the popular thinking was, you sell to consumer’s emotions. Cognitive neuroscience has proven that in reality, every product or service is first sold,  to the consumers’ brain. 

For your  ad design to create lasting recognition for your brand, it needs to first capture the attention of your consumers’ mind. 

For your ad to spark a buying intention, it needs to generate a lasting recall trace in their brain. Great creatives trigger an action. Great creative images and messages are automatically encoded by the neurons of your consumers resulting in lasting memory recall.

Targeting, context, reach and other variables definitely matter but only predict 53% of your overall campaign performance. Your creative ad alone, accounts for a stunning 47% of every advertisements performance. 

Moreover, the data protection measures such as the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) of Apple, the GDPR in Europe, the end of Google third Party cookies are making ad tracking and targeting more and more complicated. This trend increases the importance of designing efficient creative advertising to instantly capture the consumer’s attention and trigger lasting recall.

Consumers are being bombarded with ads!   The fight to build strong brands has dramatically intensified. Every company is drilling down on improving marketing’s performance at every level and every individual and this has changed the game for the graphic designer.  

Design creativity is now more important than ever, but equally important is the campaign’s performance and that now rests squarely on the shoulders of everyone involved in the campaign, including the advertising graphic designers. Stunning no longer cuts it. Stunning and successful is the new benchmark!

The problem is that humans, suck at predicting the performance of an ad creative. Our brain is a black box for ourselves, you can’t tell what unconsciously captures your eyes’ attention but above all, you cannot predict what your brain will remember. Cognitive neuroscience can and new technologies derived from it are able to measure and predict these impacts in seconds.

You might think, well Facebook, Google and other ads networks will actually find the best performing ads creative for me based on CTR, CPC, Conversion… Well, yes, but how much & how long will it take? What does your creation team learn from this kind of test/feedback? How much time do you/your team waste running ad testing? How much money do you lose on ineffective ad variations? While you are testing iterations, are your competitors, stealing your customers by knowing before they launch their campaign, what will be the most effective creative design?

The Creative-Processing theory is the next big thing!

We designed the Creative-Processing theory to provide you, advertisers, marketers and designers with a framework and actionable measures to make all your creatives stand out in your customer brain, increasing conversion rates, lead generation and brand awareness and recognition, for all your creatives and for all your communication channels. We do this BEFORE you launch a campaign. No more iterations or AB testing.

The creative-processing theory is rooted in information processing theory whose latest advances have made it possible to understand and predict how the different populations of neurons (consumers brains) process information.

Creative-Processing theory discerns three different stages that need to be mastered by creative advertising to succeed in influencing the consumer’s behavior. It is not all the companies added values or calls to action that will influence the consumer behaviors. In fact, only the information that grabs attention, that is persuasive enough and that is also remembered can impact the buying decision.

  1. Grab instant attention (Reception)
  2. Generate emotion and expectations of reward (Persuasion)
  3. Create lasting memory recall (Retention)

Reception phase (Grab instant attention)

First statement: it’s not because you expose your content to consumers that they will automatically receive & process all the information!

For example, when your target consumer scrolls their Facebook feeds in which your ads appear, their brain not only receives the visual signal of your advertisement, they receive the entire presentation of your ad. 

Why can this be a problem? In the complexity of our perceptual world and the limited capacity of our short-term memory, our brain cannot pay attention to everything. Our brain instantly decides to focus its attentional resources on what is more salient in the context. If your ad creative is not part of the perceived salient image and message zones,  it will go unnoticed. 

Here is some really good and important news! Scientific research has proven, that what catches attention is around 80% consistent between humans with different demographics.

Therefore, the entry point for your ad to be able to influence the consumer behavior is to make sure the critical content in the ad, is received by their brain. As there are billions of human cognitive biases that influence how the information will actually be processed, it is imperative for marketers and creative designers to add software solutions combining neuroscience and artificial intelligence. These solutions make it possible to understand and more importantly, predict, these billions of biases in the human brain.

Let’s take these 2 examples: the advertisements of Honda and Dolce&Gabbana. 

Honda ad

Dolce&Gabbana ad

We used Hippoc’s instant attention prediction to assess how effective each of these perform at capturing the consumer’s instant attention. The more the area of the ad creative is looked at by an average consumer during an exposition time of 3 seconds, the more it is visible in the fog map below.

Honda ad – Instant Attention Fog Map

There are several human attentional biases that we can easily observe on this ad from Honda. 

First, it is known that humans have a bias to process what is at the center of their visual field. In science, this is known as the center bias of visual attention. This is why the consumers look more at the HR-V in the center of the ad. 

Secondly, it is known that we have a bias for human recognizable objects such as cars. This is consistent with the Hippoc instant attention prediction. 

How the text will draw attention depends on multiple factors such as the contrast, the length, the size, the position, the semantics and the surrounding. For example, the texts under each SUV are not catching much attention.

What did Honda do well in this ad? They limited the amount of information on which to draw the consumer’s attention, namely the 3 cars and the title. Moreover, the title is perfectly centred which helps capture their attention (cognitive bias).

Dolce&Gabbana – Instant Attention Fog Map

In this other example of an advertisement from Dolce Gabbana, we can observe that information in the periphery is normally capturing less attention (Logo and product) as expected by the center-periphery bias in visual attention.

Moreover, it is known that humans have a bias for human faces. In fact, there is a specific area in the brain visual system where neurons code specifically for different face parts.

What can we learn from the Dolce Gabbana ad? 

Mainly that it gave most of the customer attention span on the mannequin’s face which automatically reduces the attention span on the Brand & the logo. Therefore, while the customer’s attention will be grabbed by the face, it’s likely that they will not create a relation with the brand or product. A recent study shown that when a model on an ad look from the camera “makes an emotional ad more effective; the opposite is true of an ad designed to be informative”. 

Therefore if, the brand was looking to have a focus on the product, they have somewhat missed the target. They could also have increased the attention on the product by putting it more towards the center, where the attention is naturally concentrated

Now that your ad creative key information has been received by the consumer brain, the information reaches other brain regions associated with the persuasion of the creatives.

Persuasion: Emotion and expected Reward

With content marketing, the goal is to communicate the added values and the call to action with the consumers. If the message catches the attention and is well processed, there are other parts of the brain that are reacting to how this information is persuasive, leading the consumer to a desired action (e.g. the buying decision or other action).

Amygdala & Striatum

There are two important brain systems that are directly coding  persuasion in the human brain:

  1. The amygdala (structure coding for emotions; in red below)
  2. The striatum (basal ganglia; structure coding for reward prediction error; in green below)

The amygdala generates a representation of all possible human emotions. In fact, all the complexity of human emotions can be represented along these two fundamental axes, arousal and valence.

For some emotional events, the more the event is arousing (intense), the more it will activate the amygdala. This activation intensity will also activate selective and automatic benefits for attention and behaviors. In a second step, the amygdala will also code for how the information is valence (is it a positive or a negative observed event?).

In a business perspective, when your advertising creative wants to emphasize a pain that your consumers are living, you want them to feel a strong negative emotional value. However, when you present your solution, you want to create a strong positive emotion that will be associated with your brand.

Based on these emotional gaps, the striatum automatically generates a reward prediction which is inseparable from the learning and decision-making processes.

The higher the reward prediction, the higher the probability that the customer will take the action necessary to experience the reward. This is the reason why offering rewards is a great way to invite people to act. From an advertising perspective it’s important to deliver at least the reward expected by the customers. Otherwise, people will encode negative emotions which will lead to a lower expected reward the next time these same people face a company’s ad creative. More importantly, you want your added value and call to action, to be associated with a strong reward.

Secondly, after the reception of the signal, the brain encodes the information that is related to the emotion & the reward prediction so it can generate the action leading to the reward (ie. click, purchase, learn more, awareness, etc.). Thirdly, the emotion and reward associated with your creatives will also play a role in memory (the retention). Strong emotions and rewards are associated with better performance and more memory retention.

Different solutions exist to assess the emotions associated with your ad creatives. Important information to know, unlike attention and recall which are very consistent between humans, emotions are very inconsistent. Emotions are strongly related to the experiences of each person.

Retention: create lasting memory recall

Creating lasting recall is fundamental for your advertising campaign success. 

The consumer’s brain can only trigger an action based on the information they have access to, i.e. that they have encoded (recall). While the amygdala & striatum are the 2 main systems related to persuasion, lasting recall is mostly handled by another brain structure, the Hippocampus. Now you see why we named our company Hippoc! The Hippocampus encodes information leading to the consumers’ decisions.

So even if your ad creatives catch a lot of attention and are very persuasive, your consumer will not automatically recall all the information. Therefore, in the short term, they may not click on the CTA. In the long run, your consumer will simply not remember your brand, your product or your message… annoying, isn’t it? 

Tips: when running a brand awareness campaign, test your ads creative & make sure what you want to be recalled is indeed remembered.

Some information is easier to remember than others. For example, if I show you a simple picture of a dog or a very long textual description of the same dog, it will take less attentional resources to remember the image compared to the text. 

Furthermore, as we noted earlier, there are billions of biases that influence what will be recalled by the consumer’s brain. According to multiple researchers, there is in fact a high consistency between humans in terms of the information that will be remembered or not after looking at it. More precisely, the consistency for recall is around 70% between different demographics.

Let’s get back to our Honda & Dolce&Gabbana ads creative example & let’s analyze them from the recall perspective now. 

Honda lasting Recall

Honda ad – Lasting Recall Heat Map

What Honda did well in this ad? First thing, even if the CR-V on the left and the Pilot on the right are looked at very quickly by the consumers, they are remembered very well. Honda made an efficient usage of the attentional span of their consumers with this advertising. On the other hand, even if the consumers are reading the headline, the consumers only remember the “SUV for 2018” but not the fact that Honda was “Awarded best”. As it is an important added value, making sure the consumers not only process and remember the product but also the added values would meaningfully improve the performance of the ad. 

This also represents a loss in cognitive resources. The brain has spent attentional resources on a content for a low recall. We observe this pattern for the car at the center and the headline. This may be related to the size of the car in the center which is smaller and the low contrast between the title and the background. 

Overall, it is very likely that consumers remember that Honda is selling SUVs in 2018, but not that they were awarded as the best SUV Brand. That is a big miss!

Dolce&Gabbana ad – Lasting Recall Heat Map

On the other hand, the Dolce Gabbana ad creative creates the most amount of recall on Scarlett Johansson’s face. This is not surprising since the human brain generally recalls human faces very easily. The brand & product name are ineffectively recalled which represents an important loss of cognitive resources. Overall, the consumers will remember seeing Scarlett Johansson’s face and dress but is unlikely to remember the brand association with the fragrance. They will probably have to see the ad several times to get the association and remember the particular product.

To Sum up

It is a brand and business imperative to:

  1. Instantly capture the attention of your consumers brain on what matters;
  2. Create the widest possible gap between the emotion attached to the brand and to the solution you present;
  3. Design to ensure the essential information will influence the buying action.

Curious to see other Hippoc applications and the correlation between our predictions and business impacts? Take a look at the following cases:

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