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The winning formula for advertising around big sports events

We ran different ad tests during the World Cup, including using biometric testing on 21 ads. The ad that ‘won’, in terms of greatest subconscious and conscious audience response, was the Ladbrokes’s advertisement, which is driven by verbal and visual humour. But what was it that resonated so well with the audience?

Engage both sides of the brain with humour

According to a recent study published in the journal ‘Cerebral Cortex’, visual humour engages parts of the brain responsible for vision, and verbal humour activates the language-processing areas. These big brain areas tend to be in different hemispheres of the brain (with some exceptions) – so an ad that is working both on a visual and linguistic level is engaging both hemispheres.

Engaging both sides to the brain in a positive way (we confirmed positivity via the subjective accounts viewer gave to the Ladbrokes ad) improves the ad’s efficiency in grabbing and holding viewers’ attention, and creating a lasting impression of the brand.

Match the audience’s mood

Advertising needs to resonate with the audience’s current mood. While it is very hard to predict this in general, it is much easier with audiences focused on a major event. For ads aired before and during a major sporting event, for example, the audience’s mood is likely to be social, enthusiastic, emotional, and so forth.

In our test, the ads that were projecting a relaxed state of mind with representations of peaceful lifestyle elements performed very poorly. They were not in line with the audience’s prevailing mood at that particular time and therefore triggered very little subconscious engagement and subjective liking.

Similarly, such events are not the right context for ads that need the viewer to try hard in order to ‘get’ the joke or decipher the puzzle. People geed up for a big social event, and very focused on that, don’t want to be distracted by complex advertising. They respond better to the more obvious, or ‘slapstick’ type humour that doesn’t take their attention off their main purpose for watching.

Beware of humour that pokes fun at the audience’s self-esteem

Any threat to our self-esteem triggers withdrawal or prompts us to push back in defense of who we are. Therefore, advertising needs to be careful with any type of humour that is directed at people’s daily habits.

This is especially so for audiences who are in a social, festive mood in anticipation of a big sports event; they are not in the mood to see humour in the mundane, awkward moments in their lives.

In our test, the ad that portrayed that type of humour triggered relatively high emotional engagement, but the conscious responses showed it to be mainly negative. In fact, it scored 15.77 points below the average ‘performance score’ of all the ads tested before and at half time – which is a significant underperformance. In addition, it had only around half the amount of peak moments of strong emotional reaction compared to the average seen during this test. The ad was out of kilter with that audience’s present mindset and mood.

Use ‘lack of connectedness’ sparingly

Humans love to join the dots. We are intrigued by the lack of connectedness, because we are driven to make the connection – and this holds true in advertising. While we are intrigued by disjointed scenes, or unexpected pauses in the music or visual frames, we have a certain threshold of tolerating this. This threshold is even lower during times of emotional turbulence when the audience’s minds are focused almost wholly on anticipating a major event, such as a big sports game.

Again, our test showed that ads that include high levels of these elements (70% of the total copy) can prompt frustration and disengagement in viewers. In particular, the ads that showed partial body parts – i.e. legs or arms shown only partially – or where the music or visual element was interrupted for more than a second during the ad, scored up to 20 points less than the average performance score for all the ads tested. In addition, these ads triggered hardly any peak moments of strong emotional reaction, performing up to 40 points below the average for this metric, in this test.

What would we have missed had we not used a combination stated response and biometric response?

By layering stated responses with biometric testing, we can deliver strategic and tactical recommendations that are much more future-proofed. We find out not just what people say, but how they instinctively react – giving us the ‘what’ and also the ‘why’ on both conscious and subconscious levels. By analysing these layered findings, we get a holistic, as opposed to a one-angled, understanding of human behavior and human receptiveness in different situations. And that means you can do more successful planning, based on this better understanding.

Conclusion

For advertisers, the key message is that an ad that performs well during a ‘normal viewing’ situation could fail to resonate if screened around a specific type of event, where the audience is in an elevated frame of mind. To make the most of prime-time advertising, such as around a major event, we need to project the audience’s most likely mood and ensure the proposed ad dovetails with all the connotations of that mood.

For more about ad and concept testing using biometrics, please contact Eszter.Boczan@gfk.com

About the study

GfK and Shimmer, a leading provider of wearable wireless sensor products, monitored the physiological responses of around 50 participants as they watched the live France-Peru World Cup game – including watching 21 advertisements from a variety of product categories that were shown before the game or at half time. The physiological response was recorded via a biometric device, which sits on a participant’s wrist and picks up the signals via two non-intrusive electrodes. As well as tracking the audience’s second-by-second skin response and heart rate as each advertisement played, GfK also recorded their stated response to each advertisement at the end of the session.

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