Neuroscience and more intelligent TV ads.


It looks like the team at The Mission Control Communications and sister studio, The Mission Discovery are once again ahead of the curve, predicting the findings of a five year neuroscience study that shows brands should stop going for the ‘hard sell’ in TV ads.

The study, backed by Thinkbox and carried out by Neuro-Insight was based on 150 adverts, each coded against 50 different creative factors that were then used to find a correlation between long-term memory encoding (LTME) and people’s decision-making and future behavior from a trial base of 2,000 people.

Key takeaways from the research indicated that people were less likely to remember an ad if it emphasized hard fact or scientific information, or was overtly selling products. By contrast, live filming of real people demonstrating emotions and humor performed much better, with memory encoding levels on average 15% higher.

Speaking to James Killoran, Strategic Director at The Mission Control Communications, we discuss the findings and their relevancy to the industry.

The findings of the study didn’t come as a surprise to you then?

“Not at all,” says James. “Understanding the neurological triggers that influence behavior has long been the Holy Grail of our industry. Perhaps we have been more fortunate than many other agencies in that our relationship with companies pushing the boundaries of knowledge in neuroscience has afforded us a better insight into how the brain interprets and responds to stimuli created to essentially sell. It’s a fascinating area that is opening up new possibilities in an almost daily bases.”

How do you think the wider advertising industry will respond to the research findings?

“Honestly, much of what the research has revealed is already common knowledge, or it should be. But understanding how your audience will process and respond to an ad is only part of the equation. So if anything, the findings should act as a catalyst for a very interesting conversation and re-examination of how agencies, brands and companies function.

The challenge our industry faces is two-fold. Firstly, it has to be prepared to move away from House-Style advertising, where you can recognize the author agency of a campaign because it has common traits that appear in all of their work. The second challenge is educating clients to move beyond familiar ways of doing things.”

Do you think this research will do that?

“It’s the first step in what will be a long road with many agencies and clients throwing up barriers to anything that challenges what they are comfortable with. In our experience, our clients have been aware of these findings for years, so it’s not news to them.”

What was interesting in the neurological findings of the study was that the so-called ‘hot topics’ that the advertising industry and brands are attempting to tackle, such a ethnicity and gender bias of characters in ads actually had little impact on memory encoding, indicating that while tackling the issues might be the right thing to do and did enlighten the audiences subconscious, it did not have a direct correlation with sales. Genuine human interactions, such as conversations or affection were also seen to trigger memory encoding responses 10% above those with low levels.

I take you already employ these techniques in your work?

‘When relevant, yes,’ replies James. ‘But it has to be remembered that this research isn’t a rulebook – it’s an insight that we need to constantly evaluate and apply with responsibility and sincerity.

Mission Accomplished!



  1. Abi Cocks

    A most interesting article, James. I love these insights into the industry – excellent research material for threads of authenticity in my second novel! 😀 More please!

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