Ads that stick in your brain

Are Canada's most creative campaigns better at grabbing attention than ones made in the U.S.?


While big budgets and celebrity endorsements in ads leave a big impact on consumers, nothing competes with knowledge of a local market and high-quality creative, according to a new study by performance-driven digital agency Mediative.

The study used EEG headsets provided by Toronto-based research firm Brainsights to measure the thought patterns of 230 attendees at the Dx3 digital marketing conference in March as they were shown 20 different ads. Every two milliseconds, the headsets measured changes in the participants’ brain patterns to determine the attention being paid, the emotional connection and how well the ads were encoded into memory.

The ads were a mix of spots aired in Canada and the U.S., as well as ones that went viral online, and were selected for the creative praise they’ve received, the amount of views they’ve tracked online or for having aired during the Super Bowl. The ads were chosen by Matt Di Paola, managing director of digital innovation at Sid Lee.

The report ranks how each ad performed in each category and analyzes whether Canadian ads fare any better than their American counterparts as well as how the amount of views they received online might correspond to the results.


attention2Canadian ads fared about as well as U.S. ones, despite often facing smaller production budgets, with PC Financial coming in second behind McDonald’s. The report attributes this to effective advertisers knowing their market, and ties in to its eventual conclusion that global brands need to act locally in order to capitalize on the specific behaviours and purchase drivers present in different regions.

The report also points out that celebrity-based ads (like Volvo’s “Epic Split” video featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme or Turkish Airlines spot featuring soccer stars Didier Drogba and Lionel Messi) do a better job of holding our attention, while cause-related ads fall lower on the list. It speculates that this is because social or motivational videos tend to be longer and have to work harder to retain attention throughout.

Emotional Connection

emotionFour of the top five spots that created an emotional connection were by global brands, with TD’s spot (which came in at #4) being the only from Canada. The report says the spot is particularly effective for a financial brand. It, like many of the other top performing ads, is more upbeat and engaging, unlike the Adidas ad which, despite being filled with well-known athletes, placed near the bottom in every category because of its dark, brooding tone.

It also points out that nostalgia, utilized in the Bud Light and Snickers spots, appears to be a quick and effective way to create an emotional connection.

Even though eight of the top ten ads in the emotional category had over 10 million views online (signified by an asterisk in the list), the report says there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between the amount of views a video gets and creating an emotional connection (the ads with over 20 million views, signified by a pair of asterisks, all fell outside the top five). It says views are more closely related to a celebrity presence, or association with a cause (like Always).

Memory Encoding

memoryCanadian ads took three of the top five spots when it comes to remaining in consumers’ memories, even though they weren’t emotionally-charged, lacked a celebrity presence and weren’t as sensationalized as some of the others. This suggests that Canadian consumers register more information coming from content they know is local.

While Netflix is not an immediately recognizable Canadian brand as PC and Air Canada are, it’s spot utilized subtle identifiers (like hockey, the colour red and semi-recognizable Canadian actor Neil Crone) to convey a sense of Canadiana.

This also suggests that the same things that drive views, like a celebrity presence most often only available to global work, isn’t the same thing that drives memorability, as the top five ads in this category were among the least-viewed, and makes another case for knowing a marketplace and its consumers as being more effective from a business perspective than simply adapting global creative.

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