The UK’s Royal Mail wanted to understand whether there are any differences in the communications effectiveness of printed and virtual media. They wanted to better understand their marketing communications mix.
Millward Brown, a global research agency specializing in advertising, marketing communications, media and brand equity research, decided to investigate how the brain processes printed marketing materials, such as direct mail, compared to virtual (or digital) materials presented on a screen.
Millward Brown had learned the importance of emotion in driving marketing success from other forms of advertising research and hence they wanted to test the relative emotional response between printed and electronic communications.
Working in collaboration with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University, Millward Brown used MRI scanning to understand how the brain reacts to printed and virtual stimuli. MRI can look directly at brain activity and see the brain regions most involved in processing advertising. These include quite subtle reactions that respondents can find hard to articulate verbally or which may be unavailable to introspection and so could be missed by conventional research.
During the research, 20 participants were shown ads on-screen (to produce the online, virtual experience) and printed on cards. While participants interacted with the material, brain scans were used to assess how the processing of marketing materials was affected by the medium of presentation.
The same material was shown on-screen (to produce the online, virtual experience) and printed on cards. While participants interacted with the material, brain scans were used to assess how the processing of marketing messages was affected by the medium of presentation.
Printed materials leave a deeper footprint in the brain
Printed material involves more emotional processing, which is important for memory and brand associations
Printed materials produced more brain responses connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater “internalization” of the ads
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.
Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.
Greg has developed a series of business tools to help designers manage their business better along with a series of workshops that show designers how to use these tools.