Using Storytelling to Drive Advertising Memorability


Using Storytelling to Drive Advertising Memorability

Neuro-Insight and Rightmove presented this case study at the AURA May 2018 event.

Authors: Heather Andrew - Neuro-Insight, Abiola Oni - Rightmove


Background and objectives

Operating for almost 20 years, Rightmove features around a million properties from over 90% of all UK estate agents, and is the UK’s number one website for all types of property to buy or rent. 

However, consumers tend to think that all property portals are broadly similar, and so Rightmove wanted to build distinctiveness by adding a stronger emotional dimension to its brand.  The result was the “Life Steps” campaign, telling emotionally-driven stories about why people move.  Rightmove were confident that the campaign tapped into a rich emotional territory, but wanted to find an objective way of measuring this, and relating it to the strength and ultimate impact of the narrative.  Simply asking people was unlikely to give insight into deeply felt emotional responses, so Rightmove chose to research the ad using neuroscience, in order to measure and quantify a range of subconscious responses.

Video: Advert available here on YouTube


Overview of methodology

In order to do this, Rightmove worked with Neuro-Insight, who measure brain response to communication using a unique methodology called Steady State Topography (SST).  This involves fitting headsets to respondents and measuring electrical activity in different parts of their brains.  Because the brain is highly specialised, activity in different areas can be taken as an indicator of specific cognitive functions, such as emotional response and memory encoding, the process by which information is selected for storage into long term memory.

The Rightmove ad was researched amongst a sample of over 100 people in total, pre-recruited and convened in small groups in a central location.  They were told at recruitment stage that we were interested in brain response to TV viewing, but not exactly what we were looking at, or who we were working for.   Once at the study location, after a short introduction to the methodology, people were fitted with a specialised headset containing small sensors to record brain activity, and simply watched around half an hour of a regular TV programme, during which time we measured their second by second brain activity.  The Rightmove ad was presented in the context of an ad break in the programme - there was nothing to particularly alert people to it and they didn’t have to make any conscious response; we simply measured brain activity as they watched.


At the end of the study, responses from all respondents were averaged and analysed.  This allowed us to see, second by second, how people were responding emotionally to the ad and what was getting in to memory.


Key findings

The pattern of brain response that we saw indicated a strong emotional response to the ad, and memory encoding was also high, showing that the brain was engaged by the narrative.  There was a particularly powerful peak of memory response at the point when the Rightmove branding was delivered - benchmarking on the 87th percentile amongst ads from similar categories.  This was crucial because, in an ad where branding is only weakly encoded, any associations or imperatives to act aren’t linked to the brand in a way that can positively impact future actions.

So we knew that the ad was doing well, but the real value to Rightmove was understanding why, so that the results could be used to inform future advertising executions. 

Looking at detailed diagnostics, we were able to identify a couple of important factors:

  • The ad told an emotional and compelling story.  Brain response moved appropriately in response to the highs and lows of the narrative, and memory remained high throughout, indicating that the brain was engaging with the story without wear-out or loss of interest
  • There was a positive emotional resolution to the ad.  Although emotions like frustration and sadness were fundamental to the story, the narrative ended on a happy note, and this positive emotional response happened as final branding was delivered.  Therefore, not only did final branding get strongly into memory, it was also coloured positively by a favourable emotional response. 

The final factor, perhaps the most important of all, revolved around how branding was delivered.  When we store things away in to memory, our brains work more like still cameras than video cameras – we file away snapshots of information from which the brain subsequently re-creates what it has just seen.  These snapshots are all the brain has, and tend to revolve around moments where the storyline is developing.  However, this can sometimes work against brands because, as our brains collect their snapshots of information, they take processing pauses at the end of a sequence of events, to make sense of what’s just occurred.  We call this “conceptual closure” and, in itself, it’s a good thing – it shows the brain is actively engaged.  However, whilst the brain is doing this processing, it’s relatively unreceptive to new information.  If branding appears just after some sort of punchline in the story, or anything that suggest a resolution to the narrative, it can fall into that moment of the processing pause, and the brain misses it.  This conceptual closure effect is one of the most common reasons for poor brand attribution.

 However, in the case of the Rightmove ad, the moment of resolution of the storyline is a key piece of information for the brain to take in, and branding is introduced precisely at this point rather than afterwards.  The net effect is that branding is strongly encoded into memory, meaning that the huge emotional power of the ad is correctly attributed to Rightmove and can work, as intended, to build powerful emotional connections that are strongly associated with the brand.


Exclusively for Members

As always, our seminars are exclusive to AURA members. 

Following the event, additional material will be available on the AURA website. Follow this link to see additional event content.