Hacking the human brain with social marketing

October 2, 2017, City University London
Credit: City University London

Marketers have always spent time and money trying to pinpoint their ideal consumer market, but in the age of viral video, what makes that audience engage with an advert? New research looking at how the human brain responds to social marketing videos using encephalography (EEG) reveals that storytelling is the best way to engage consumers.

Narrative Transportation

The research team concluded that in order for campaigns to have a lasting influence on , marketers need to create content that:

  • Gains their audience's attention, working memory and invokes an emotional response
  • Reflects a typical story structure with a beginning, middle and end
  • Enables the consumer to identify with the subject
  • Provokes the consumer to care about the subject

Dr Tom van Laer, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Cass Business School and part of the research team, said:

"Our research shows that you have to use narrative transportation if you want to positively influence your audience's behaviour. People need to lose themselves in the story they're seeing in order for their attitudes and intentions to change to reflect that story."

The research team used EEG to investigate consumer responses to social marketing videos. Their paper, published in the European Journal of Marketing, found that decision-making behaviours are generally associated with activation of the frontal brain systems.

They uncovered the importance of storytelling in consumer engagement by assessing brain activity related to attention, working memory, emotion and imagination in the role of narrative transportation.

Taking a different approach

But will this affect how marketers create content today? Dr Van Laer believes that traditional marketing data is still crucial in identifying target audiences, but when it comes to engaging with those people, marketers need to take a different approach entirely.

"The application of cognitive neuroscience in the marketing space, or 'neuromarketing' is a useful tool for marketers who want to increase engagement and influence."

He added, "The problem we see with a lot of advertising today is that the creators and marketers are identifying with their peers and not their audience. They're creating content in a bubble, thinking about what they want to see and not what stories their ideal customers want to engage with. We've seen this happen when ads go viral for the wrong reason."

Explore further: IBM, Facebook team up on analytics, advertising

Related Stories

What makes telenovelas so popular?

October 15, 2013

A particular type of consumer enjoys stories with plots, characters, and imagery that allow them to get lost in the narrative, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

How to trust what your customers say about your brand

August 4, 2015

Marketers would love to get inside the consumer brain. And now they can. Researchers at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see if what people say about brands matches ...

Recommended for you

Study forces a rethink on population history of Ibiza

December 7, 2018

Otago researchers have discovered a rare case of genetic population discontinuity on the Mediterranean Island of Ibiza. Essentially, the original genetic signature of the founding female population, handed down through centuries ...

Medullary bone found in Cretaceous birds

December 5, 2018

A team of scientists led by Jingmai O'Connor from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported the first occurrence of medullary bone in Enantiornithes, the ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.