Mobile-Minded: The Small Screen Isn’t So Small

Today, people tune into content whenever and wherever they want. With viewing happening at home on a TV and on-the-go on a smartphone, marketers want to ensure that their messages are being received no matter the screen. To determine if their advertising is effective, marketers have traditionally turned to self-reported market research techniques, but those approaches have limitations. Enter neuromarketing, which according to the Neuromarketing Science & Business Association “is the systematic collection and interpretation of neurological and neurophysiological insights about individuals using different protocols allowing researchers to explore non-verbal and unconscious physiological responses to various stimuli for the purposes of market research.” Though still in its infancy as a marketing research practice, neuromarketing is giving marketers a direct view into people’s physical reactions to stimuli rather than relying solely on people’s ability to report their own feelings to that stimuli.

Facebook commissioned SalesBrain, a US-based neuromarketing agency, to understand how people’s brains and physiology respond to identical stimuli viewed on a smartphone versus on a TV. The study focused on how the brain responds to 4 key areas: engagement, attention, emotion and retention. We recently spoke with Helen Crossley, Head of Audience Insights for Facebook IQ, Dr. Christophe Morin, Founder and CEO of SalesBrain, and Dr. Paul Zak, President of ZESTxLabs, to understand the methodology behind the research, the results and what the results means for marketers. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow.


What was the reason behind pursuing a neuroscience research study?


Helen: Facebook IQ recently conducted a significant piece of research to explore how people share—and share in—the moments that matter to them on Facebook and Instagram. What we have seen is that, with the advent of mobile, we’re moving from fewer bigger, longer moments manufactured by the media and marketing industry to a time when people are manufacturing and consuming their own moments en masse, every day, 365 days a year. Given that people are processing so many moments every day, we sought to understand how exactly people are processing those moments—from a physiological and neurological standpoint—and how that processing varies depending on the screen.


How does neuroscience research help answer marketing questions?


Dr. Morin: By monitoring the direct response of advertising on people’s brains, on their nervous systems, we are able to pick up objective measurements that we can trust, and understand, and predict the effect of advertising.


So, how did you approach this research?


Dr. Zak: To our knowledge, this is the first time that a neuroscience study has compared ads watched on a mobile device to ads watched on TV.

Helen: In scoping this study with Dr. Zak and Dr. Morin, we wanted to design an ad experience that best represented how people view ads on a smartphone and on a TV. We created a test environment where participants viewed a stimulus while watching a TV show or while scrolling through a Facebook News Feed.

Dr. Zak: Multiple neurological measures were taken to capture the unconscious responses of the 70 volunteer participants. At the ZESTxLabs, we were then able to observe autonomic measures, such as sweat, heart rate and eye movements, as well as brain activity measured via electroencephalogram (EEG) when they viewed a stimulus on either a smartphone or a TV.

Helen: We also surveyed the participants to understand their message recall of the stimulus on the smartphone and on the TV.


How were the participants exposed to the stimuli?


Dr. Zak: The participants were randomly split into 2 groups, accounting for age and gender. First the participants completed a baseline measure. Then each group viewed a set of stimulus ads, which ranged from movie trailers to brand ads and varied in length from 30–120 seconds. Group 1 viewed the stimulus on a TV first then a smartphone. Group 2 completed the same set of exercises as Group 1, except those participants began with a smartphone and then viewed the ads on a TV.




How were you able to analyze participants’ reactions to the stimulus on each screen to determine your results?


Dr. Morin: We have found a way to crunch this data and provide calculations and predictions that tell us how people really process information at the cortical and subcortical levels.

Dr. Zak: The metrics that the physiological and neurological measurement techniques derive, such as change in heart rate or the change in EEG rhythm, are analyzed in combination with proprietary analytic algorithms called the Zak Engagement Statistic (ZEST).

Dr. Morin: Through the EEG, we were able to analyze the brainwaves’ frequency, helping us monitor the degree to which people paid attention to the ad, their ad preference and their motivation to approach or withdraw from the stimuli.


Based on your analysis, what did you discover about how people process ads on a smartphone and on a TV?


Helen: Overall, people were more attentive and tended to feel more positively toward the information presented on a mobile phone than on a TV. With TV, people’s brains were more distracted and had to work harder to process the information. We found that overall mobile was on par with TV with regards to emotional intensity and engagement. Having said that, emotions and engagement were significantly higher for a couple of the ads. People were equally likely to be as engaged on mobile as they were on TV.

As an added layer on top of the neuro research, we also saw an uplift in message recall when participants viewed the stimuli on TV followed by viewing it on a smartphone.




Were these the results you expected to find?


Dr. Morin: We did not expect that the mobile viewing experience would produce more positive emotions. This was surprising. You would assume that because the TV screen is larger than a smartphone screen that the bigger screen would yield a more positive emotional response.

It seems that when viewing a stimulus our neurological systems don’t really require a grandiose experience to feel a response. Overall, the more data that we seem to be exposed to, the more effort is placed on our brain. And, in some way, due to its size, the smartphone may provide a more efficient, less energy-demanding experience.


What can we take away from this research overall? Was there a clear difference between the screens?


Dr. Morin: It is our conclusion that the smartphone experience is more immersive than the experience of TV viewing overall. When the same ad stimulus played on a smartphone, the reaction was greater than TV on both attention and positive emotion, and, to some degree, on engagement, which was quite remarkable.

Helen: We also saw some initial results on the complementary nature of the 2 screens. In analyzing the post-exposure survey, there was an uplift in message recall when a participant viewed the same stimulus on a TV first, followed by a smartphone. By creating campaigns with cross-screen appeal, marketers can help to further drive the retention rates of their advertising.


Final thoughts as marketers think about neuromarketing and the ways it can inform their strategies?


Helen: I feel like we are at the beginning of being able to help marketers understand what role neuroscience can play in market research. This initial study has revealed that there are more opportunities to research how people’s brains respond and process advertising through the lens of neuromarketing.

Dr. Zak: Advertising is fascinating to study because it’s about stories, and our brains loves good stories. It’s good stories that move us to action. I think the beautiful thing about neuroscience applied to marketing is that we don’t have to go on our intuition, what we believe, what we feel. We can test. And the results that you get are real. They’re actionable.


How should marketers think about their mobile strategies?


Helen: Don’t overlook mobile. Our physical closeness to the mobile screen has shifted our perception of the size of the device. It is drawing us in to be more attentive and feel more positively about the content that is presented on it and creating opportunities for marketers to connect with people.

Maximize your message. Create campaigns that appeal not only to the right senses but also the right screens. Appeal to people who are mobile-minded by being more efficient in your messaging, putting the key messages points within the first 10 seconds and taking advantage of cross-screen opportunities to extend your reach.

And test your approach. Use a combination of market research techniques to understand the effectiveness of your campaign. By aligning your business objectives and your campaign approach, marketers can evaluate and refine their mobile marketing strategies to best reach the right people.


Download the White Paper on “How the Brain Processes Mobile and TV Ads” here.


Check out the video below to see more thoughts from Dr. Morin and Dr. Zak about this study:

Source: “Neuro Mobile” by SalesBrain (study of US adults commissioned by Facebook), May 2015.