The 2016 US Presidential nominee race certainly generated a fair amount of debate, much of which can be attributed to the polarising, non-mainstream candidates occupying both Republican and Democrat camps. By using the hype generated by the real Presidential campaign, streaming giant Netflix was able to hijack the media and America’s attention to briefly refocus the spotlight from Donald Trump to the upcoming season of House of Cards and its main attraction, the fictional President of the United States, Frank Underwood. BBH New York’s campaign, which won a Grand Prix in the Integrated Lions category this year, featured a 30 second spot that was placed within highest rated US political debate in American history. The spot was very effective in getting people to talk about Frank, with #FU2016 becoming the top trending topic on both Facebook and Twitter within an hour of launch. While we know that this campaign was highly effective, we used neuroscience to determine just how effective the creative components of the advertisement were
Analysis: How Netflix Hijacked the US Election With Advertising
The brain activity of fifty male and fifty female participants was recorded while participants viewed a 30-minute program with the 30 second Netflix advertisement embedded in one of the ad-breaks. The advertisements were fully rotated within position and within each ad-break across the entire sample. Importantly, each participant only viewed the entire reel once and therefore the experience that is being analysed reflects a true first exposure to the Netflix advertisement.
The report is primarily based on Neuro-insight’s Long-Term Memory Encoding measure which has a strong and highly researched link in influencing consumer behaviour (Silberstein & Nield, 2008). The measure reveals what the brain is encoding into conscious and unconscious long-term memory and the time series graph indicates how elements of the ad are stored in long-term memory – the higher the graph (above 0.7), the more strongly the moment in the ad is stored in memory and the more likely it will influence consumer behaviour. In addition, Neuro-Insight’s Approach (like)/Withdraw (dislike) and Emotional Intensity (the strength of the emotional response) measures are briefly touched upon in this report.
Long term memory encoding for Male Viewers
Long term memory encoding for Female Viewers
From a cursory glance at the time series it becomes readily evident that both genders respond quite differently to the advertisement. Male viewers processed the advertisement in a more generalised way, taking in more of the visuals than female viewers, who exhibited a more balanced processing state. This processing bias is determined by the dominance of either the Blue (global/general) or Red (Details) memory encoding trace over the other.
“…male viewers processed the advertisement in a more generalised way, taking in more of the visuals than female viewers, who exhibited a more balanced processing state.”
A more detailed looked at the time series shows that male viewers exhibited a more dynamic response that consisted of many peaks and troughs. In contrast, in female viewers we see a much more sustained memory encoding response with only a few peaks. The most strongly encoded moment in male viewers was centred on the visuals and voiceover statement of “….today, more people will go to work” . The combination of this statement plus the visuals of manual labour resonated very strongly with male viewers, which is unsurprising, given that the building and manufacturing industries are traditionally male dominated fields. Although, we also see a peak in the response of female viewers, it is considerably smaller than the male response. Furthermore, the subsequent military themed scenes also resonate more strongly with male viewers – again, not surprising for the very same reason above.
One of the most prominent differences between the genders occurred during the visuals of the children running towards the camera. While female viewers exhibited a sustained response during this scene, we see a strong reduction in memory encoding in male viewers. Looking at the emotional dimensions further reveals that this scene is also associated with a slightly negative emotional response. While the data would appear to suggest that male viewers are ‘put off’ by this scene, we would argue that this reduction in memory encoding is being driven by a memory consolidation process that we have termed Conceptual Closure. Briefly, Conceptual Closure occurs when the brain perceives an event boundary, such as a narrative sequence coming to an end and takes a brief period to process and store the previous experience. In this case the switch from the employment related scenes of building, manufacturing and armed forces to a more abstract, emotive scene of children running in a field, was perceived as the beginning of a new narrative sequence by male viewers. In contrast, female viewers perceived this entire sequence as one narrative block, hence we did not see Conceptual Closure occur during the same period.
“While the data would appear to suggest that male viewers are ‘put off’ by this scene, we would argue that this reduction in memory encoding is being driven by a memory consolidation process that we have termed Conceptual Closure.”
Emotional response of Male and Female Viewers
While this advertisement did manage to cause a stir on Twitter and other social media platforms during the real-life GOP was the campaign effective? In order for an advertisement to be considered effective, it must have not only have sufficiently high levels of memory encoding during any key message, but most importantly at final branding. In this advertisement, we see the fictional Underwood campaign slogan of ‘FU2016’ was very strongly encoded in male viewers. In contrast, this very same scene was only moderately effective in female viewers. During the Netflix branding, we see a flip in memory encoding, with a much higher level of memory encoding in female viewers compared to male viewers. So, while we see differences in final branding across the genders, in a sense, we would still consider this advertisement to be effective. While the Netflix brand is only strongly encoded in females, we cannot discount the strong brand equity of the Frank Underwood character and the strong linkage that the character has to Netflix. In this regard, any prominent branding of Frank Underwood would also benefit and reinforce brand associations with Netflix.
In summary, BBH New York’s campaign was not only an exceptional piece of viral communication, it was also a highly effective piece of advertising. Interestingly and perhaps surprisingly, this campaign also elicited different responses in male and female viewers and these nuances were able to be detected using neuroimaging. This opens up a number of possibilities for advertisers who now can use these tools to fully understand the different segments that comprise their customer/user base.
Written by: Dr Shaun Seixas
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Silberstein, R. B., & Nield, G. (2008). Brain activity correlates of consumer brand choice shift associated with television advertising. International Journal of Advertising, 27(3), 359-380.