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Temple U researchers find brain sweet spot for TV ad success

The more a commercial tickles the part of the brain that dishes out neurochemical rewards, the more likely it is to influence your buying decisions.

Temple researchers watched how commercials affect the brain. (Photo by Flickr user Alec Couros, used under a Creative Commons license)

By tapping in to the body’s physiological responses, a team of researchers from Temple’s Fox School of Business has found a way to predict if a TV ad will “work.”
“Specifically, we are able to show that activation in an area of the brain known as the ventral striatum, the reward center of the brain, can predict a TV ad’s success,” said researcher Angelika Dimoka, the director of the school’s Center for Neural Decision Making. Dimoka led the research, along with professors Vinod Venkatraman and Paul Pavlou.

The higher the activation in the ventral striatum, the higher the success of the TV ad. Nobody has ever been able to make such a linkage.

“We show that physiological and brain responses to a 30-second TV advertisement can provide reliable markers for evaluating its actual success in the market,” Venkatraman said in a statement.
The team began its research after receiving a $286,000 grant from the Advertising Research Foundation, a nonprofit member organization supported by major companies and ad agencies. The research, completed in collaboration with researchers from NYU, Duke and UCLA, analyzed available sales and success data from TV ads from 2009 and 2010.
Over 300 participants were evaluated using eight methods: traditional surveys, implicit measures, eye tracking, heart rate, skin conductance, breathing and brain activity (measured via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and EEG).
So, what’d they find out?
“The higher the activation in the ventral striatum, the higher the success of the TV ad,” Dimoka said in a press release. “Nobody has ever been able to make such a linkage.”
It just might help confirm the ye olde adage “sex sells:” the ventral striatum also plays a key role in sex addiction (and drug addiction).
The research, accepted for publication by the Journal of Marketing Research, is particularly useful to advertising agencies. “The ads must make you desire the product — make you want to go get the product,” said Venkatraman. “What we have is an implicit measure of how your brain responds when you’re watching the ad.”
“These responses can determine how well an ad does in real life,” added Pavlou.
When asked if this changes results for consumers who are now aware that they are physically responding to good ads, Venkatraman replied, “Absolutely not. This doesn’t have any impact from the consumer point of view.”

Companies: Fox School of Business / Temple University
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