Attention marketers, it’s the small things that make a big difference

Peter Pynta

  • CEO APAC, Neuro-Insight
Peter has worked in the media, advertising and research business for the past 30 years. Neuro-Insight is a global neuroanalytics firm that uses subconscious metrics that unlock how creativity and media works – empowering advertisers, agencies and media companies globally with solutions that optimise the effectiveness of contemporary marketing communications.

Marketers spend their careers searching for the formula that can improve the bottom line for their brands. Most new marketers also come into a role and feel like they need to put their own stamp on things.  

But research in neuroscience consistently proves that no matter the medium, it’s often the smallest changes, made in the right places, which can deliver the biggest impact to an advertisers’ bottom line.  

Creatively nuanced – financially powerful  

Neuroscience can provide information our conscious minds are not even aware of or might struggle to articulate. One of the most significant ways neuroscience is contributing to communications is the way in which it captures and measures incredibly subtle responses – those small things.  

Small moments may be considered by many as incidental on the face of it; a look, a glint of sunshine, a note in a jingle, a change in context, a vocal inflection or the ‘novel yet familiar’ tweak in a campaign. These are invariably elements in media and creativity that usually don’t get noticed and which render a survey or focus group very blunt mechanisms in which to capture a response. That’s because, by definition, they’re just too subtle.  

No other metric or approach has been able to uncover the way we feel and process information in our subconscious. There have been efforts in the past and of late, discussing the value of attention, the definition of which alters depending on the questioned source. But from decades of neuroscience research, it’s been scientifically proven ‘visual attention’ can only contribute a maximum of 15 per cent of what is happening in long-term memory.  

You may be familiar with the stat that we process 10,000 messages a day. But what is often overlooked is the brain filters through so much stimulus, we know only a small fraction that actually gets in and gets stored into long-term memory.  

There are many factors contributing to how well a message is retained or committed to long-term memory. From social norms, heuristics, context or user experience, we process so much automatically and subconsciously it’s impossible to measure without investigating the brain activity.  

Making it stick

There are some key moments that can help contribute to the ability of a message to successfully be committed to long-term memory. This creative stickiness in our minds can be proven, against the rigour of scientific peer review, as there are cases where we’ve seen side-by-side comparisons of two versions of an ad. While respondents have not been able to identify any tangible differences in

the creative, the two ads have had very different in market performance. Just because they’re small and inconspicuous doesn’t mean they’re not powerful. In fact, a moment can colour a whole story, good or bad.  

All very well and good in theory, but what in reality does that look like?  


One example we’ve seen in the TVC space comes from an MLC advert for retirement. It found a 140 per cent difference in ROI just by re-editing the creative to remove 1 scene. Sometimes there’s a separation between the story and the branding that can switch our brains into ‘conceptual closure’, if the branding is brought in too late. The story is resolved in our minds and we switch off.  

In MLC’s case, a grandfather was speaking with his grandson about retirement. By moving the message forward three seconds, the three-month-old campaign was revitalised and saw 40 per cent increase in leads.  

The campaign won at the Effies the following year for the impact it was able to deliver on the client’s bottom line. Here are the before and after videos to see if you can notice the difference.  

The power in audio  

We’ve all heard compelling advertisements on the radio, but we’ve never been sure why some strike a chord and others remain forgotten. It turns out that while a picture paints a thousand words, in the absence of other senses to guide our experience, we really focus on the syntax and vocabulary within radio ads. A simple change to wording can dramatically improve the effectiveness of an ad where the overall messaging remains the same.  

Below are two voiceover texts, see if you can guess which would perform better? Identical scripting was used, in this instance: “start your 14-day trial”. They were placed at slightly different points - 1.5 seconds apart within a 15-second ad. The memory encoding response, however, was 97 per cent different. A seemingly insignificant creative difference that produces a huge difference in receptivity, and one we’d predict would drive a corresponding ROI in market.  

This is a very salient example of just how sensitive our real human responses can be to specific moments in a message. Timing of your message in audio, just as it is in television, is crucial. Bringing the message forward in the ad can improve your impact by 97 per cent. Which is massive.  


During an American Football match, one brand’s unmistakable colours were shown behind the goal posts. They were instantly recognisable for this FMCG brand and despite a competitor being the official sponsor of the broadcast, the brand with strong brand identity gained 25 per cent attribute growth when exposed to this moment in a footy broadcast.  

The environment dictated a competitor got the credit/recognition because of the timing of a moment an audience was tuned into. That small window represented when and where all the important action took place, and subsequent highlight reels would focus on.     

What it all means  

The good news is because these changes are so small, they are very easy to optimise and amend in current campaigns once you’ve identified them. Just like a super slo-mo camera shot of an Olympic athlete or a cricket ball striking a bat, we can now see the incredible granularity in everyday moments. This is where science, with its objectivity, precision and sensitivity, delivers a powerful competitive advantage to the advertisers who use it.  

The challenge is simply to accept these opportunities really do exist because they’re extremely easy to underestimate. Assuming ‘close enough is good enough’ or a race to hit a looming on-air deadline are among the many distractions that usually prevent creative optimisation.  

Just as the tech giants aim to learn from how customers use their sites through A/B testing, marketers must use the data available to them to be able to get the insights into what’s working and what can be improved. Numbers prove a percentage of people saw or stared at your ad for three seconds or more, but in mediums like out-of-home, a glance is actually enough to be committed to long-term memory providing the scientific proof that our environmental factors are right.  

Not all seconds are made equal. To ensure you find out that other 85 per cent, you’ll need to be monitoring the subconscious.

Tags: advertising, Neuroscience, brand strategy

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