Neuroscience study shows print ads have greater impact than digital ads
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Neuroscience study shows print ads have greater impact than digital ads

While surveys and focus groups can help us understand why consumers act or behave a certain way, sometimes it takes a bit of science to reveal subconscious processes and reactions that we’re not aware of.

Using techniques like eye tracking, heart rate monitoring and even MRI scanning, scientists are able to explore our physiological responses and deeper brain activity when exposed to certain stimuli. In the case of a recent neuromarketing study conducted by Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making, in conjunction with the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General, that stimuli was print ads and digital ads.

The study revealed a few key findings about the way we process physical advertisements compared to digital ads. Participants handled print ads (in the form of postcards) and viewed digital advertisements (in the form of an email inbox replica). With the help of eye tracking devices, the first stage of the study revealed that while participants processed email ads faster, they also spent more time handling and reviewing physical ads compared to digital ads.

The second phase of the study tested memory retention of the advertisements. One week after viewing the ads, participants were brought back into the lab and researchers discovered that the content of physical ads was more quickly and confidently recalled compared to details in the email advertisements.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the study was the third stage that explored the financial value of the items being sold. Participants were asked how much they were willing to pay for the products advertised. And while their direct responses didn’t show a significant value difference between print and digital ads, MRI scanning showed that print advertisements generated more brain activity in the ventral striatum, which is the area is responsible for valuation and desirability. This could mean that we have a greater subconscious desirability for products or services viewed in print, which could be a stronger predictor of actual purchase.

In short, while digital ads capture our attention faster, we spend longer looking at physical ads, are better at remembering the content of physical ads and show a stronger subconscious desire for these items.

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