Los Angeles, CA— Researchers at the UCLA Ahmanson Lovelace Brain Mapping Center have measured how people’s brains reacted to the Super Bowl XL ads by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to measure the activity in brain regions associated with key emotions.
The rankings are based on activity measured in key parts of the brain— areas that are known to be involved in wanting, choosing, sexual arousal, fear, indecision, and reward. The final results may disappoint those who hope for conscious advertising engagement.
Some of the ads that climbed to the top of traditional polls appear to have failed to induce significant reactions in the brain. A highly regarded commercial featuring a pre-FedEx caveman, failed to induce much activity in any emotional centers in the brain, even among those who praised it lavishly. Indeed, the end of the advertisement actually induced a huge spike in anxiety. USA Today’s top-ranked ad, Bud Light’s “Secret Fridge,” also failed to cause much reaction.
Advertisers appear to have inspired counter-productive emotions in their battle to stand out from the crowd. “Almost all the ads induced their greatest activity in…a center of the brain most associated with detecting threats or danger,” said Dr. Joshua Freedman UCLA clinical assistant professor of Psychiatry and co-founder of FKF Applied Research. “Even if viewer’s partially suppressed them, they had associations of fear and insecurity. Not something you want in an ad.”
According to the researchers, the most important advantage of this approach is that it reveals viewer’s reactions in the same passive mode that they watch ads in real life. “It is essentially impossible to ask someone about what they think of an ad without changing their answer," said Dr. Freedman. “In the real world, people watch ads and react to them, not answer questions from focus group leaders. Even talking about an ad distorts emotional reactions. The setting of interviews, focus groups, polls- all lead people to say things that are dramatically different than their unvarnished reaction to the ads.”
For example a Dove advertisement appears to appeal to idealism but the fMRI results do not back this up. Many respondents said they liked the ad and were enthusiastic about the message, but their emotional centers did not show engagement.
“Ads can fail for a variety of reasons” said Dr. Freedman.“Some ads induced powerful emotions, but they were fear, anxiety, and threat. People don’t like to feel, let alone talk about these emotions, so other parts of the brain suppress these reactions, making focus group subjects unlikely to report them. But the ad actually hurts the brand. Other ads essentially evoke no significant emotional reaction, but are pretty or clever. Frequently subjects will praise them, but the beauty is skin deep, and there is no real effect.”
Tom Freedman, a partner at FKF Applied Research added: “If you are not connecting emotionally to people all the hype and all the buzz is meaningless. It is surprising how many times ads do not really connect. If you spent millions of dollars for thirty seconds of message, that’s an expensive emotional miss. In football terms most ads got stopped at the line of scrimmage. The scans show only a few spots went for big gains and touchdowns.”
The final findings are posted at www.fkfadrank.com/superbowl.