For the third year straight, we show why USA Today ratings are misleading
Sure, we all know that Philadelphia beat New England. That was real. And you may know that the NFL’s “Touchdown Celebrations to Come” won the USA Today Admeter contest. That’s what the USA Today Admeter voters said – but what did their brains say? What really matters is what our brain actually engages with, not what we say we like. It is neurologic immersion in a commercial that predicts enjoyment, social shares, and, most importantly, predicts purchases.
We’re IN (Immersion Neuroscience). We’re neuroscientists. That’s right, we’re brain nerds. We measure that immersion of the brain in an experience – for instance, with an ad. So, we tested neurological immersion of the same Super Bowl ads with typical viewers.
We can tell you that the ad that actually performed best was diet Coke’s “Groove” the ad that came in 65th – or dead last – in the USA Today Admeter ratings. You see, there’s a big difference between having someone say they “like” an ad and having an ad actually grab someone’s attention and create emotional resonance. Immersion, not “liking,” is what drives sales.
There’s nothing wrong with the USA Today Admeter. It’s hugely popular. But we have developed a way of studying not just what’s popular, but what actually drives actions. The USA Today Super Bowl ad ratings are fun to look at, but Immersion Neuroscience rankings are only important to people who sell things – marketers and advertisers. Finding accurate predictors of consumer actions is exactly what Immersion Neuroscience does.
A decade of published research by our scientists has proven that ads that sustain attention and generate strong emotional resonance cause viewers to act. Measuring attention is actually pretty easy, but emotional resonance is harder. Our research shows that the neural signature of emotional resonance is the brain’s production of the neurochemical oxytocin. Using sophisticated signal processing techniques, we can capture the oxytocin effect by measuring changes in the activity of the nerves that control the beating of the heart.
Based on this research, Immersion Neuroscience has developed a software platform that use small, wearable neurosensors to quantify immersion in an experience second-by-second for 1-100 people. Our proprietary Immersion Quotient™ algorithm captures both attention and emotional resonance, anywhere, by anyone.
This year, as we have found in previous years, the rankings of ads by neurologic immersion are very nearly the exact opposite of the rankings reported in USA Today. For instance, USA Today’s most “liked” ad, the NFL’s “Touchdown Celebrations to Come” came in 11th in our neurological rankings. Budweiser’s “Stand by You” ad that came in second in the USA Today rankings, actually came in 14th for engaging consumers’ brains. Comparing rankings, there is actually no relationship between conscious rankings reported by USA Today and the unconscious emotional ranking of ads using our Immersion Quotient™.
The Immersion Quotient™ is easy to understand: it varies from 0-10, normed across thousands of people, with higher values denoting greater immersion. The Immersion Neuroscience platform is easy to use and understand, and provides real-time measures of immersion. Our software also quantifies peak immersion and shows users when people are frustrated and disengage. Clients across the Fortune 500 use Immersion Neuroscience’s platform to improve ads, optimize customer journeys, quantify the impact of events and meetings, and improve employee onboarding and training.
Let’s look a little more closely at the ads ranked by Immersion Quotient.
Two days after the Super Bowl, we put neurosensors on eight participants while they watched, in random order, the top Super Bowl commercials as ranked by AdMeter. While an individual watches an ad, immersion could hit its peak of 10, the data below are averaged across participants and over the time period of the ad so 10s are never seen. After measuring immersion for hundreds of ads, we have found the average immersion for an ad is 3.8. This means that ads that exceed 3.8 effectively promote actions after viewing, while those below 3.8, not so much. The very best ads we have tested will have an average immersion of 6.5-7.0, while the worst ads score below 3.0.
The figure below shows neurologic immersion for 17 Super Bowl ads, ranging from most immersive to least. The winners are: Diet Coke Groove, M&Ms Human, and E*Trade Getting Old.
Figure 1: Ranking of Super Bowl ads by neurologic immersion.
Comparing the USA Today ranking to the Immersion Quotient™ shows there is no relationship between conscious rankings reported by USA Today and the unconscious emotional immersion by the brain.
Key Finding: As we have found in previous years, there is no relationship between what people report as their favorite ads and ads that are immersive to viewers’ brains.
Immersion, not “liking,” is what drives sales. Ads, like Coca-Cola’s “Groove” are odd, but in fact highly immersive. USA Today readers ranked “Groove” as the worst ad, but using neuroscience techniques we found this odd woman doing an odd dance was highly immersive. People couldn’t stop watching it and the dance and dialog illustrated how Coke’s new flavor would make one get up and dance for joy (no matter how badly). Things that are weird or unusual keep us watching, and if it is paired with a story, as “Groove” is, we start to care about the product. That’s immersion.
Figure 2: The dancing woman featured in the Diet Coke ad “Grove.”
Indeed, our analysis shows that the most immersive ads from this year’s Super Bowl are all odd. The second highest Immersion Quotient™ ad features Danny DeVito as a human M&M asking people to “eat me.” The third most immersive commercial was produced for E*Trade and shows oldsters doing weird jobs because they have no retirement money. Immersion is an unconscious emotional response–something our brains are not designed to reveal to us consciously. Across all 17 ads we tested, there was a negative associated between USA Today scores and the ads’ Immersion Quotient™ (correlation -0.37). This means that a higher conscious rating of “liking” of an ad meant that it engaged the brain less! This corroborates what we have found in previous years’ testing of Super Bowl commercials.
Let’s dig deeper and find out why.
What the Best Ads Did
The Immersion Quotient™ for Coca-Cola’s “Groove” for the 30 seconds of the commercial is shown in the figure below. It has been 21 years since Coke advertised during the Super Bowl and they score a win with this ad produced by the agency Anomaly. One can see that are are two peak immersion points, around second 6 and second 22. The peak occurs when the actress looks at the camera and says, “Diet Coke Twisted Mango. Because….” and then pauses to take a drink. The pause piques (and peaks!) our interest. What is she going to tell us about? And, what’s with that weird yellow wall behind her that we have to look at while we wait? We have to hold our desire to know while she sips her drink. Anticipation generates an attentional spike in the brain associated with the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. The pattern of her talking and us listening has been broken. We are intrigued!
Her story about Diet Coke Twisted Mango continues as she starts to dance and talk about how great the product makes her feel. Then, the dancing getter faster and weirder. Viewers are intrigued and can’t look away. Just before the peak at second 22, she says, “Maybe slowing it down, maybe it’s getting sexier.” The video is shot asymmetrically with the actress staying on the one side of the frame for most of the commercial, also an oddity that holds our attention. Importantly, the story that the actress is telling features the product and is the reason she is dancing. There is a narrative arc we can follow: if we want to be happier and perhaps sexier, we should drink Diet Coke Twisted Mango.
The second most immersive commercial, M&Ms “Human” created by BBDO New York, also has two peaks. The first occurs when the commercial starts and we see two cartoon M&Ms walking in the city. This indicates a strong and immediate connection with the brand. The second peak occurs around second 18 when the humanized M&M, played by Danny DeVito, says joyfully “nobody wants to eat me” believing his human form has saved him when his is promptly…. hit by a truck. Ouch! We are laughing at the stupidity of this, but we get the message–M&Ms are always eaten. After this peak experience, immersion wanes. This suggests that if “Human” were tested for immersion before release, it could have been cut to 15 seconds and saved M&Ms $2.5 million.
The third best ad, E*Trade’s “This is Getting Old” created by MullenLowe, has a single peak.
The commercial shows senior citizens doing strange jobs typically held by young people. These jobs get odder and odder and the peak occurs when we see “grandma DJ.” Peak immersion happens near the end of the ad and is overlaid with E*Trade’s call to action: talk to us now to save for retirement. This is a very well-crafted commercial because the peak occurs just when we understand that we may need E*Trade’s services. What we see by measuring immersion is that the first 15 seconds of the ad is a relatively weak preamble that could have been improved if were tested.
Key Finding: The best ads have a strong narrative arc and their call to action occurs at peak immersion points.
What the Worst Ads Did
The least immersive ads we tested were Toyota’s “Good Odds” and Hulu’s “Castle Rock” (an original show on Hulu). Toyota’s ad runs 60 seconds and starts off well by depicting a newborn baby. There is a peak at second 7 when we see the baby is missing his lower legs and feet. The data show that immersion drops after that shot, with just a few minor peaks afterward. Like many commercials that miss the mark, the storyline is weak, showing a handicapped woman competing in sports with little tension in the narrative. This is partially rectified by a good sound track, but cuts of athletic feats and text telling us what to feel cannot save this ad. Dropping in “Toyota” at the end of the commercial creates a minor peak, but the brand is wholly unrelated to the narrative so viewers have tuned out and the brand logo does little to improve immersion. This is a case where testing immersion for a rough cut of the ad would have shown that it performed poorly and needed to be improved.
Examining Hulu’s 30 second “Castle Rock” ad, we find a strong downward slope after the peak at second 9. The commercial starts well with scary music and mysterious scenes, and the branding of “from Stephen King and J.J. Abrams” is timed perfectly with peak immersion. Unfortunately, the ad then rapidly devolves into jump cuts of scarier scenes absent a storyline. The viewer waits for these scenes to be connected but they are not and interest is lost. This ad would have worked better with either a consistent storyline or simply stopping after 15 seconds.
Key Finding: Weak ads do not sustain immersion because they lack a strong story and visuals so that viewers lose interest.
Population Predictions and Key Take-Away
Our research has shown that the Immersion Quotient™ predicts population outcomes in social media and in markets with high accuracy. Our analysis confirms this for the 2018 Super Bowl ad data where the Immersion Quotient™ was positively correlated with the number of YouTube views of Super Bowl ads (correlation 0.27) and comments made about the ads (correlation 0.25). In other words, ads that had higher Immersion Quotients got more attention from YouTube viewers, effectively leveraging investments in the ads. This also shows how neurologic immersion in just a few people predicts population outcomes. In contrast, USA Today ad rankings were negatively related to the number of YouTube views (correlation
-0.33) and comments (correlation -0.38). So, the more people said they “liked” a Super Bowl commercial on AdMeter, the less attention these ads got online. One can only conclude that AdMeter is not an effective tool for companies seeking to predict a sales bump from Super Bowl advertising.
Neurologic immersion is a better predictor of aggregate outcomes than self- reported data.
Measuring Immersion before releasing an ad can substantially improve the return on investment, both when being shown in TV by improving story structure and testing various ad lengths, and by leveraging YouTube views.