Brain scans reveal engagement levels of videos

What if you knew in advance that your TV commercial would work — and you could be sure of high levels of engagement? That was a question asked by a team of neuromarketing researchers at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. And they found they can calculate anticipated levels of engagement. It’s a surprising result that could help creative marketing professionals fine-tune their work and guarantee results. We spoke to Hang-Yee Chan, a PhD candidate from Hong Kong, who’s leading the study. We know engagement is key to consumer preference. People can be captivated by video content that is engaging — they can take the breath away. Recent studies show when people share the common experience — such as talking to each other — their brains tend to react in the same way. So we want to ask: If different people watch the same engaging video, does it have the same effect? In other words do their brains sync up also? Because if we can predict the level of engagement just by looking into people’s brain we can use that information to improve it and adapt it. The team used FMRI scans to measure the brain activity of 60 subjects as they watch the same sequence of 35 TV commercials. Then, with machine-learning techniques, the researchers compared brain activity patterns. The researchers found that if an advertisement evokes highly similar neural activity across all participants, it also tends to do well at engaging consumers in the market. With our findings, marketers could predict the level of consumer engagement a video will generate. Videos that are less engaging can be sent back and be adapted. So instead of car chases or explosions, adding emotionally resonant content and accessible narratives create engaging videos. We now have the scientific confirmation of this power of storytelling. Neuromarketing research has been ongoing at RSM since 2004, in the Erasmus Center for Neuroeconomics. It’s increasingly grabbing the attention of marketing professionals — who recognize that unconscious emotional responses drive many consumer decisions. This current research is a collaboration with neuromarketing agency Alpha.One. The research presents a new and more reliable way to measure engagement in the brain when people are presented with videos. At Alpha.One, we’re very excited to offer this analysis to our clients. For example, it could help government bodies improve their public service campaigns about, say, road safety or healthy eating.

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