Friday, February 9, 2007

The Superbowl of Brains

I am really slow getting my superbowl ad blog but I've been fighting a nasty flu bug that seems like it's knocking out half of Mizzou. I was going to join in on the millions of people giving their reviews of superbowl ads but I came across this interesting article on This article gives me the chance to throw out hopefully more interesting thoughts than just another opinon on the ads.

This article describes superbowl ad research done by a company in California using FMRI brain scans of individuals watching the superbowl ads. This company has actually been doing this post game ad report for a couple years now, I think, but this year the research release drives home a point I really try to make with my students. The brain scan data indicates that advertisers went over the top on trying to develop edgy, attention grabbing content at the expense of achieving a positive communication effect for the advertised brand. As I tell my students, attention is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an ad to have a positive effect on the target. The FMRI data reported on this year's superbowl ads indicated that several of the ads evoked very strong response in the Amygdala, an area of the brain responsible for processing threat and anxiety, but very little activity in other areas. Apparently, stimuli that evoke a strong response in the Amygdala are likely to be memorable but the memory is NEGATIVE! Not exactly the best effect for a client who just spent 2.6 million dollars placing a superbowl ad!!! The brand that "wins" the award for demonstrating this negative effect....drum roll please.....Snickers (2 men kissing ad). This ad evoked the strongest Amygdala response in viewers with little other activity in other brain areas. Since this ad has run, reaction has been so negative to the ad, Snickers cancelled it's plans to continue airing it in other programs.

Some of my students intuitively want to argue that even bad publicity is still publicity that can ultimately pay off for a brand. However, I do my best to completely stamp out this view. I pride myself on being a fairly open minded teacher but this is one view I will never be able to buy into. Time will tell if Snickers sales actually suffer as a result of their completely reprehensible ad. However, the logic of bad publicity "magically" turning into a positive effect for a brand is not something I think intelligent and ETHICAL brand managers ought to gamble money on. Not only is the logic flawed, but this kind of thinking can lead to trashy, junk ads that represent the lowest of the low of advertising.

I wish you all health in this cold and flu season:)
Mad Scientist


Caitlin said...

Hey Uncle Mad, the flu has spread over here too. Almost every member of our family has had it. That was a great post, I think that the Snickers ad was the one that I had the most negative reaction to too. Fascinating to hear about it from the view of a Media Science Professor.

Love to you and Aunt Maddie,

Ryan said...

Media Brain,

Well, I have officially sworn an oath to never consume a Snickers product again in my lifetime. Now I am actually kind of grateful to have been forced to listen to the Super Bowl on the radio rather than view it.
Your students are entirely wrong on negative publicity eventually, through some twisted form, being beneficial further down the road. My English professor assigned a book recently in which the author sought to reconcile the public with understanding towards those who undergo 'gender' changes. Now, this professor cannot get any of the students to touch another of this author's writings when given the opportunity to choose between several writers due to the fact that most in the class regard the author as a disgusting fool. I can't seem to make out how that label will further that author's prominance and sell his future books.


Paige said...

Great post Uncle Mad! I completely agree with you. I find it so interesting how you research media and it can tie into your ethical world view. Thank you for the great posts from a good perspective!

Love you lots,