Premium editorial sites outperform social media for long-term memory encoding

A new study by Newsworks (the UK marketing body for national newspapers) and the Association for Online Publishing (AOP) has found that left brain memory encoding, which processes words and detail, is 42% stronger when people view ads on premium editorial sites than when they see the same ads on social media sites.

Right brain memory encoding (more emotional and global aspects of processing) is strong for both premium sites and social media, but ads on premium sites generate a 9% stronger response.

The research, conducted by neuroscience experts Neuro-Insight, set out to explore why the quality context that editorial media provide works – focusing on the physiological effects that environments have on brain responses to advertising.

The research measured participants’ brain responses to identical ads in different contexts, analysing a number of sites in the brain in order to identify key research metrics:

  • Long-term memory encoding – Memory encoding is key because it correlates with decision-making and purchase intent. It is measured for both left brain (detail and language) and right brain (more global aspects of processing)
  • Engagement – Engagement is an indicator of how involved people are, and is generally triggered by material that is of personal relevance
  • Emotional intensity ­– Emotional intensity relates to the strength of emotion being experienced

Results show that ads seen in a premium context are viewed for longer (+17%), create 29% higher engagement (personal relevance) and generate greater levels of left brain (+42%) and right brain (+9%) memory encoding than ads on social media (Facebook and YouTube). Ads seen within a premium context also elicit stronger, more positive emotional responses.

Social media is associated with high levels of immediate attention, however the study suggests that this is not creating engagement (personal relevance), or being converted into long-term brand memories to the same extent as on premium sites.

Commenting on the research, Newsworks’ CEO Vanessa Clifford says: “We already knew that context was important for digital ad performance – now we know that it is because the brain processes ads differently depending on where they are encountered.

“It’s not enough to find the right audience, people need to see ads in an environment that is conducive to memory encoding if we are to build brands longer term and maximise effectiveness. Premium editorial sites provide that highly valuable context.”

Anthony Jones, Head of Insight at the Association for Online Publishing (AOP) adds, “A number of recent studies have shown that premium publisher environments outperform other digital environments on a number of key business and brand measures.  This study helps us better understand why these differences exist, and provides practical guidance about the respective roles premium editorial and social media environments play in helping achieve communications success.”