Something happened in my brain when I watched the new Guinness ad – the wildly successful commercial that earned 3 million YouTube views in just three days. I’m not sure what it was, but by the final frame of foamy Irish stout, I was already planning on buying a pint next time I go to the bar.
To me – and I suspect a good number of the 6+ million viewers of this clip – this ad inspires, challenges and ultimately surprises. It reaches out to me emotionally, relationally and cognitively, and it lands right on that mysterious sweet spot somewhere between my mind and my heart – that spot that decides how I’m going to spend my money before my brain can really catch up.
This is Your Brain on Ads
Guinness and other successful advertisers didn’t stumble upon some marketing secret formula. Instead, advertisers are using new technology called neuromarketing to understand and predict how we will react to advertisements.
Neuromarketing studies how our brains respond to ads, focusing on factors like attitudes, emotions, reactions and memory. Using tools like fMRI scanners and EEG sensors, marketers can compute “the deep subconscious response to stimuli” (New York Times, 2010). Neuromarketing has been discussed in different ways since around 2002, but recent researchers have coupled it with data measuring other physical responses: heart rate, sweat and eye movement for example. Together, these “neuroengagement” studies reveal how we unconsciously scan images on ads and how we respond to what we see.
From these studies, one basic finding stands out to me. Researchers have found that simplicity wins every time. In product placement, in commercial story lines, in packaging design – our eyes most easily scan and our brain most positively reacts to simple, powerful marketing messages.
From this formula, the new Guinness ad gets it just right. It’s simple – one setting for almost the whole length of the ad. Same characters playing the same game. Simple themes: courage. Strength. Teamwork. It hits your brain and heart with a story you remember.