Man with Earbuds

Neuroscience has helped validate something advertisers intuitively knew for decades but couldn’t necessarily prove: the power of jingles or audio signatures. An advertising cornerstone in the ‘50s and ‘60s, jingles are back in vogue, joined by the more subtle audio signature. Originally made famous in commercials in the 1970s and ‘80s, Ace Hardware brought back its iconic “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man” jingle in 2013. Marketers are also realizing the value of sonic branding or brand hooks, such as the Intel sounder or the Taco Bell gong.

“Back in the 1950s and ‘60s jingles were used a lot but people didn’t really understand why they worked so well,” says Jon Wright, VP of Behavioral Science at ad agency Moxie, part of Publicis. “Whereas now we are starting to understand why they work.”

Throughout human history, rhythm and melody have been used to carry information from person to person, in the form of epic poems, songs or storytelling. “Jingles are using the same neural resources for the communication of ideas about brands,” says Dr. Bradley Vines, director of Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience, Europe. The research shows that rhythm, rhymes and repetition—the essential building blocks of the jingle—are hooks that catch in long-term memory and firmly entrench the idea in a person’s mind. “When used consistently, a jingle can be a powerful tool for developing a unique branding asset,” Vines says. The belief is that when these simple reminders are pounded into listeners’ heads with sufficient frequency, they get encoded or filed away for access later.

Katz Media Group began working with neuro research firm Spark Neuro during the 2016 election season to identify best practices for grabbing the attention of undecided voters when using radio in political advertising. After testing 16 presidential and local senatorial radio ads, the Katz study turned out several practical findings. Among them: Change evokes attention. Changes in sonic elements such as music or the narrator’s voice drew the listener’s attention back to the message.

The study also found that classic storytelling elements, such as hook, plot, conflict and mood, are just as important in audio as other media forms. Power in contrast was another takeaway, suggesting the need to balance messages of fear with relief, anger with hope, distrust with affirmation. The study also reinforced the importance of creative targeted to specific political constituencies. Localized ads performed 13% better on attention and enjoyed longer periods of engagement than those that were generic. “We wanted to deconstruct what makes great radio advertising for political and offer political strategists a roadmap to success with their radio investments,” says Stacey Lynn Schulman, executive VP of Strategy, Analytics and Research at Katz.

One of the least expensive neuromarketing techniques is facial coding, where research participants are exposed to ads while computers measure their emotional reaction based on facial movements. Working with neuromarketing firm Sensory Logic, Jerry Lee, chairman and owner of AC “101.1 More FM” WBEB Philadelphia, has used facial coding extensively at the trendsetting AC and says it is 90% accurate. The WBEB research shows that single-voice commercials are ineffective 92% of the time. “You need two or more voices to grab people’s attention,” Lee says. Another finding: Commercials that start with price typically don’t work. “Price is not a core emotion. You need to establish value before you talk about price,” Lee advises.

Univision uses neuroscience to understand the role that language plays in communicating concepts and generating emotions that, when integrated with memories, will influence actions and behaviors. “When you process information in your native language, studies indicate that the needed brain power—or cognitive load—is lower vs. if you are communicating in a second language,” says Carlos Gutierrez , VP, strategy and insights, Univision.

For example, a consumer may know the meaning of “amor” in Spanish or “love” in English, but depending on various cultural factors, experiences or memories, “each word will trigger different emotions, memory associations, thoughts and behaviors,” Gutierrez says. Univision’s Bilingual Brain research, conducted in partnership with Nielsen and Starcom, has confirmed how Spanish represents a more effective and engaging language when communicating with Hispanics.