The Brain’s Perspective of Cannes’ Winning Ads

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Last week, in the sunny south of France, UK creatives proved they could hold their own amongst ad land’s biggest and brightest – and not just by putting away the most rosé before ending up in The Gutter (a famous Cannes hotspot, for the uninitiated).

At Saturday’s awards ceremony, British agencies scooped 13 awards in the prestigious Film Lions category, including the Grand Prix for Adam&Eve DDB’s ‘Shoplifters’ ad for Harvey Nichols. Adam&Eve DDB also picked a Gold Lion for their Tiny Dancer ad for John Lewis, and AMVBBDO picked up two Gold Lions for Diageo’s ‘Never Alone’, and SCA’s ‘Blood’

However, with ad budgets under ever greater scrutiny, there’s more pressure than ever to ensure that even the most creative ads deliver to the bottom line.  In this context, marketers are turning to consumer neuroscience to show that brilliant creative can also be effective creative.

Heather Andrew, UK CEO of Neuro-Insight, takes a look at the winners mentioned above and explains what they did right from the perspective of likely impact on brain response.

1. Each of the ads has a compelling narrative thread

The four ads we looked at had different narrative structures, but all involved a compelling narrative thread to lead the viewer through the story.

Tiny Dancer uses the simplest linear narrative, with the viewer following the young girl’s journey through her house as she dances to Elton John, leaving mayhem in her wake.

Never Alone, created as part of Guinness’ ‘Made of More’ campaign, also involves a relatively simple narrative, following the story of Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas coming out to his teammates and the world.  The advert moves between scenes of action on the pitch and Gareth’s monologue as he walks, but the link between the two sets of scenes is clearly laid out.

In contrast, both Blood and Shoplifter use multiple vignettes; but in both cases these are held together by an overarching story. In Blood, we see different female athletes injuring themselves whilst training before picking themselves up and dusting themselves off; there is a consistency across the scenes that combines into a clear narrative about overcoming obstacles. Shoplifter uses comically altered CCTV footage of real shoplifters – again, there are multiple scenes but with the same pattern linking them – a theft, a chase, a capture. The bigger picture is clear enough to cut though the individual scenes and create a narrative thread that keeps the brain engaged.

2. Problem-solution construct drives a positive emotional response

All four of the ads involve a basic problem-solution construct.  In each case the viewer is faced with opening scenes that are difficult or troubling in some way; but the end of each ad is associated with a clear and positive resolution.  Gareth Thomas is praised for coming out; home insurance is there to protect against freak dance accidents; women are empowered to overcome obstacles; and designer fashion mavens are told there is an easier, and legal way, to get their hands on Harvey Nichols freebies.

To our brains, this is not only intriguing but also satisfying, and the climax of each ad – coinciding with branding – is therefore likely to trigger a positive emotional response.

3. The unveiling of the brand is key to an understanding of the ad

Ultimately however, a positive emotional message is only likely to impact our future behaviour if it is stored into memory – something that can be hard to guarantee when we only store information we need. This is why it is important that each ad contains an element of intrigue. When the branding message is finally unveiled, it acts as a resolution to the story and helps make sense of the ad.

In Blood, Tiny Dancer and Shoplifter, the brand message at the end of the ad helps us to decipher what we have seen by providing an explanation for what has gone before.  In Never Alone, the Guinness brand doesn’t provide a key to the ad in the same way, but Gareth Thomas’ story ties in with the ‘Made of More’ tagline, which acts as a sign-off to his particular story, and to what the viewer has been seeing.  By making the brands the final piece of the puzzle in each of the ads, it is highly likely they will be stored into memory as the crucial piece of the jigsaw.

Adam&Eve DDB’s ‘Shoplifters’ ad for Harvey Nichols

About Neuro-Insight

Neuro-Insight is a market research company that uses unique brain-imaging technology to measure how the brain responds to communications. It is the only company in the world licensed to use this patented technology, enabling the measurement of second-by-second changes in brain activity. Neuro-Insight delivers unique insights into how a piece of design or advertising is affecting people at both a rational and an emotional level.

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