Repellently effective

The neuroscience clever-clogs from Neuro Insight visited Thinkbox the other day to reveal how our recent Harvey and Rabbit TV ad had been received by people’s brains (they’d monitored brain activity of people as they watched our ad – alongside several others). We knew from anecdotal evidence online and from direct feedback that our ad had been pretty well received, but Neuro Insight enabled us to see frame-by-frame what effects it had on people neurologically. It was very revealing.

However, I’m not going to go into the detail other than to say it seemed to push the right buttons. Its neurological performance echoed and explained the positive anecdotal feedback.

But one topic came up that I thought it worth dwelling on: that of approach and withdrawal. You may be familiar with the concept already; you’ve certainly experienced it yourself. Put simply, when we watch ads, our minds can be drawn towards bits or repelled by bits (or neither). Naturally, you’d expect being drawn towards an ad being a good thing – and indeed it is and our Harvey ads have both done rather well here.

But, withdrawing from an ad can also be a desired response. This is something that many public awareness and charity ads use very well: they set up something abhorrent or to be feared (e.g. a disease, someone in a desperate situation, an incomplete tax return) and we recoil; then they follow this with a resolution of sorts, a way for you to help sort the situation out. It is a very powerful technique.

But it is not only charity and public awareness ads that employ this. Whenever ads are derided for being irritating – and I’m sure we can all think of some examples – we must keep in mind a few points. Firstly, liking an ad is proven to be a good indicator of its effectiveness, but it doesn’t mean that ads that are disliked don’t influence those who dislike them. One person’s irritating nonsense is another’s surreal masterpiece, but even irritating nonsense works – because what helps brains store brands away for later use is an emotional response. Emotion locks brands in our minds. Preferably positive, approachable emotions; but not necessarily.

  • Neil Mortensen
    Neil Mortensen
    Former Research & Planning Director, Thinkbox
  • Posted under
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