Brain Power

August 10, 2015

Printed vs. online advertising is put to the test in a revealing neuroscience study

Contemplating whether your next advertising push should be online or in print?

Consider this: The global advertising research firm, Millward Brown, and the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University, studied how the brain processes physical marketing materials, such as direct mail, compared to digital advertising materials presented on a screen.

Participants were shown advertising on-screen and printed on cards. While they interacted with the material, MRI brain scans were used to assess how the processing of marketing messages was affected by the presentation medium.

The verdict is in. When it comes to internalizing messages and connecting with those parts of the brain responsible for emotional processing, printed materials win. So, if you’re interested in making (brain) waves with your next marketing campaign, consider putting your message directly in the hands of your customers.

Keepin’ it real

The ‘real’ experience that the physical media provides means it’s better at becoming part of memory. It generates more emotion, which should help to develop more positive brand associations.

– From the study “Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail

Let’s get physical

The study suggests tangible materials leave a deeper footprint in the brain. Here’s why:

Study shows: Ads shown on cards generated more activity within the area of the brain associated with the integration of visual and spatial information, a “real” experience so to speak.

Researchers say: Engaging with spatial memory networks is more apt to connect messages to memory.

Study shows: Printed, physical material involves more emotional processing, an important link to memory and brand associations. Connecting the physical materials to internal feelings suggests greater “internalization” of the ads.

Researchers say: Internalizing the message creates a more personal effect, and, therefore, should aid motivation.

I get so emotional

How exactly do physical ads impact the brain? The study reveals:

When presented with a physical ad, more processing takes place in the area of the brain involved in the processing of emotionally powerful stimuli and memory. Physical presentation may be generating more emotionally vivid memories.

Physical activity—the handling of a printed piece—generates increased activity in the cerebellum, which is associated with spatial and emotional processing (as well as motor activity) and is likely to be further evidence of enhanced emotional processing.

The brain’s “default network,” associated with a greater focus on a person’s internal emotional response to outside stimuli, appeared to remain more active when viewing direct mail, which suggests participants were relating information to their own thoughts and feelings.