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EffWorks partners Newsworks’ latest study with Neuro-Insight found that ads appearing around hard news stories on news brand sites elicit higher peaks in memory encoding and emotional intensity than ads in soft news stories.

The findings show that the news environment as a whole creates high engagement and memory encoding in both hard and soft news contexts.

Hard news doesn’t create dislike

But crucially, there is no evidence that hard news stories create dislike. In fact, hard news stories generate a higher “approach” response, rather than a negative withdrawal response. These findings call into question an over-zealous approach to brand safety, for example, through blacklisting and keyword blocking.

Denise Turner, Insight Director at Newsworks thinks this research suggests that the current tools for assessing brand safety are too blunt. “We need to think less about bans and more about defining suitable contexts,” she says. “That way, brands can reap the rewards of conveying their messages to a highly attentive, intensely engaged audience in a compelling, emotionally powerful context.”

Measuring brain responses to ads in hard and soft news contexts

The research measured participants’ brain responses to ads in different types of stories, 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 the average dwell time is 1.4 times higher for advertising in hard news stories. Here is an opportunity for brands to capitalise on the increased attention of readers.

The research indicates that people’s brains are more actively engaged in a hard news environment and key advertising messages are more likely to be absorbed. This is because of the higher and more frequent peaks in memory encoding and emotional intensity.

Ads are sometimes more trusted in a hard news environment

Neuro-Insight also explored conscious responses to ads in hard and soft news stories in news brand content. They found that people can easily distinguish between hard and soft news stories and describe the emotions provoked:

  • 86% agree that they “know that the role of news brands is to keep me up to date with all kinds of stories and that sometimes they can be upsetting or shocking”
  • 89% “like browsing my news brands and coming across new things”
    Although some people prefer ads in a soft news context, others feel that ads in a hard news story are more trusted

Commenting on the research, Denise Turner said: “We already know that trusted news brand environments benefit advertiser brands, in terms of higher attention, stronger brand responses and better value. But there was a concern about the impact of appearing around hard news stories.

Read the full research story here.

Newsworks are partners on EffWeek. EffWeek 2019 is taking place from 15-18 October 2019. You can book earlybird tickets for the flagship conference on Tuesday 15 October now.

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Bridget Angear, Joint Chief Strategy Officer at AMV BBDO

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David Wheldon, Chief Marketing Officer, RBS

“Effectiveness is a team sport, so it was great to see the industry in the widest sense, come together. In an increasingly diverse and fragmented world, only by using all parts of the brain will we solve effectiveness challenges and design our campaigns to deliver short and long term value. That’s why what happens next is important – if the IPA can help facilitate progress on this with a long-term initiative around Marketing Effectiveness, we’ll definitely crack it.”

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