Advertisers should think before they go full screen: study

Researchers found ads that "ask permission" see more engagement from viewers, while full-screen ads trigger a "fight or flight" response.

For mobile advertisers, context is everything.

That’s the major takeaway from a recent study from Toronto-based statistics firm True Impact and Holbæk, Denmark-based neuroscience research company Neurons Inc., which aimed to find the impact of ads on the brain.

The study was commissioned by mobile ad firm MediaBrix. For the study, 64 subjects (male and female, aged 21 to 45) were observed interacting with mobile ads with the same creative, but delivered in different formats, while their neuro and biometric responses before, during and after the ads were recorded.

Subjects also underwent a post-test interview for further insights into their reactions and interactions with the test app and advertisements. Indicators studied included cognitive load (engagement), motivation and levels of desire.

The study found that mobile ad videos that are embedded in the app are more appealing than full-page splash ads, with the latter triggering a “fight or flight” response. Overall, viewers spent 22% of their time looking for an X or “close” button when watching full-page ads.

Ari Brandt, CEO of MediaBrix, told MiC he expected that users would look for the X button at some point, but did not realize that they would start looking for it in only a matter of seconds.

“The app that we were testing was a vertical app, and the interstitial was a horizontal, and less than one third of the users even turned the phone to see that the ad was about,” said Brandt.

So what mobile ad units worked best during the study? Brandt said ads need to have more of an “opt-in” nature, and not force their messages on the viewers.

“When you’re in an app, this is somebody’s personal world,” he said. “If a brand is going to participate in that world, they should ask permission. If you can have ads that incorporate context, like, ‘It looks like you could use a refreshment right now’ or ‘It looks like you could use some help with this,’ and follow it up with ‘Would you like to know more?’ people don’t feel disrupted and they’re more likely to engage in the ad.”

For embedded, opt-in units, almost 90% of viewers in the study watched the full, 30-second video. Brand awareness was higher as well; viewers were observed to be eight times more cognitively engaged with the ad and were more fixated on the brand creative than they were with the full-page ads.

When following up, 70% of viewers remembered the product, and 73% understood the brand offer (only 40% and 49% respectively reported these effects with full-page ads).

Their feelings of motivation were also measured at four times more than those watching full-page ads, and 25% said the ads made them want to keep using the app.

The lead researchers were Dr. Thomas Ramsoy, PhD, CEO, Neurons Inc.and adjunct professor at University of Copenhagen, and Diana Lucaci, CEO of  True Impact. The full study is available online.

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