Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail
By Millward Brown and the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University
"Physical materials produced more brain response connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater "internalization” of the ads."
Material/Activity Tested: The UK’s Royal Mail wanted to understand whether there are any differences in the communications effectiveness of physical and online media. Global advertising research firm, Millward Brown, in collaboration with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University, undertook a study examining how the brain processes physical marketing materials, such as direct mail, compared to digital advertising materials presented on a screen.
Methodology: Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI) scanning was used to look directly at brain activity and better understand how brain reacts in processing advertising,
Twenty study participants were shown both ads that were already in the market and an equal quantity of “scrambled” advertising images -- used as control to allow for the fact that physical material stimulates more than one sense.
The material was shown to participants on-screen and printed on cards and while participants interacted with the material, brain scans were used to assess how the processing of marketing messages was affected by the presentation medium.
- Note: This is not just because the physical materials stimulate both sight and touch; the subtraction of brain signals from the scrambled materials was done to account for this.
- Ads shown on cards generated more activity within the area of the brain associated with the integration of visual and spatial information, “suggesting that physical material is more “real” to the brain. It has a meaning, and a place. It is better connected to memory because it engages with its spatial memory networks.”
Physical material involves more emotional processing, which is important for memory and brand associations
- When presented with a physical ad, more processing takes place in the part of the brain involved in the processing of emotionally powerful stimuli and memory. This would suggest that the physical presentation may be generating more emotionally vivid memories.
- Physical activity 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.
Physical materials produced more brain responses connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater “internalization” of the ads.
- The parts of the brain associated with emotional engagement were activated more by physical ads than online material.
- The brain’s “default network” appeared to remain more active when viewing direct mail. Activity in this brain network has been associated with a greater focus on a person’s internal emotional response to outside stimuli. For the purpose of this study, this suggests that participants were relating information to their own thoughts and feelings.
The study concludes: “This research strongly suggests that greater emotional processing is facilitated by the physical material than by the virtual. 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. The real experience is also internalized, which means the materials have a more personal effect, and therefore should aid motivation.“
Complexity rating of original source: 1 (Complex statistical analysis scale: 1= easy, 2= moderate, 3 = difficult)