Why ads perform better within quality editorial contexts – based on neuroscientific findings

Advertising viewed on premium editorial sites is remembered by readers significantly more than when viewed on social media sites, a neuroscientific study by Newsworks and the Association for Online Publishing (AOP) has found.

The study, titled Context matters: a brain science study revealing why ads in quality editorial environments are more effective, found that ads perform better within quality editorial contexts because left brain memory encoding, which processes words and detail, is 42 per cent stronger when people view advertising on premium editorial websites.

Right brain memory encoding, which is the more emotional and global aspects of processing, is strong for both premium sites and social media, but advertising on premium sites generate a 9 per cent stronger response. 

The research, conducted by neuroscience experts Neuro-Insight, set out to explore why advertising performs better when paired with quality editorial and context, focusing on the physiological effects that environments have on brain responses to advertising.

How was the research conducted? 

Neuro-Insight used Steady State Topography (SST), which measures second-by-second electrical activity in the brain in order to report on various cognitive functions proven to relate to advertising impact. 139 participants took part, aged 18-60 years and recruited to reflect a range of online media usage. 

Participants were monitored while ‘free browsing’ (browsing different websites via desktop or mobile and naturally encountering different brand communications); while being exposed to ads in different contexts (the same ad in different environments); and, while being shown a film of someone navigating through both a premium sites and a social media site. 

Throughout the experiment, participants’ brain responses were individually measured and their behaviour was recorded using a video camera, enabling Neuro-Insight to determine brain response at any one point in time.

Using this method, Neuro-Insight identified key research metrics:

  • Long-term memory encoding: memory encoding is key because it correlates with decision-making and purchase intent. It is measured for both left brain (detail and language) and right brain (more global aspects of processing)
  • Engagement: engagement is an indicator of how involved people are, and is generally triggered by material that is of personal relevance
  • Emotional intensity: emotional intensity relates to the strength of emotion being experienced. 

Results: advertising environments matter

The results show that ads seen in a premium context: 

  • Are viewed for longer (+17 per cent);
  • Create 29 per cent higher engagement (personal relevance); 
  • Generate greater levels of left brain (+42 per cent) and right brain (+9 per cent) memory encoding than ads on social media (Facebook and YouTube); and, 
  • Elicit stronger, more positive emotional responses. 

Social media is associated with high levels of immediate attention, however the study suggests that this is not creating engagement (personal relevance), or being converted into long-term brand memories to the same extent as on premium sites.

The report found that both premium and social media environments outperform the average of ads encountered during free browsing, implying that targeting ads simply by audience is not optimising ad performance online. 

The environment is critical and the combination of premium editorial sites and social media offers complementary strengths. Social media provide a holistic, visual, overall brand impression, while premium contexts create detailed associations and personal relevance, leading to better memory encoding.

Commenting on the research, Former Newsworks CEO Vanessa Clifford said “We already knew that context was important for digital ad performance – now we know that it is because the brain processes ads differently depending on where they are encountered.

“It’s not enough to find the right audience, people need to see ads in an environment that is conducive to memory encoding if we are to build brands longer term and maximise effectiveness. Premium editorial sites provide that highly valuable context.”

Vanessa Clifford, Former CEO, Newsworks

AOP Head of Insight Anthony Jones said “A number of recent studies have shown that premium publisher environments outperform other digital environments on a number of key business and brand measures. 

“This study helps us better understand why these differences exist, and provides practical guidance about the respective roles premium editorial and social media environments play in helping achieve communications success.”

To read the full report on why ads perform better in quality editorial contexts, visit Newsworks’ website

Written by Lyndsie Clark

Targeted Media Services Network Founder and Editor Lyndsie Clark has over 12 years of niche publishing experience, working in a variety of roles spanning B2B editorial, sales, operations, events, BD, and management.


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