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Getting ‘under the skull’ of consumers: An Interview with Heather Andrew, CEO of Neuro-Insight.

· Technology,Advertising,psychology

This week, I was fortunate enough to speak to Heather Andrew, CEO of Neuro-Insight and key speaker at the upcoming ad:tech London event. Neuro-Insight uses unique neuroimaging technology to get ‘under the skull’ of consumers and offer a deeper, richer understanding of the psychology behind brands. Heather and I chatted about how brands are unknowingly placing themselves in the brains’ blind spot and how my concept of an ethical ad network could help brands to attach an ‘emotional colour’ to how we remember them…

So, Heather, your technology simultaneously measures cognitive functions relating to attention, emotion, memory and engagement. Engagement is a word we love to throw around in Ad-Land, but how do you go about actually defining and measuring it?

Well yes, it is tricky because everyone has their own definition of engagement. But for us, when we say ‘engagement’ what we are really focusing on is personal relevance. Things like family photos, stories we are familiar with, things we can personally relate to – the brain is more likely to be open to this sort of stimulus. The more personally relevant something is, the more we engage with it.

And when you measure memory, what type of memories are you looking at?

We focus on long-term, rather than working memory. Working memory is what you’d use if you were trying to quickly remember a phone number or something similar. Long-term memory is for information that we may need again for some purpose in the future. It’s the information that the brain stores away to use for future decision-making or action.

Long-term memory is a crucial factor to measure because if something isn’t in our long-term memory it simply cannot have an impact on our behaviour. This explains why there is a strong correlation between memory storage and future decision-making. Without going into long-term memory brands and advertisers have no impact and are merely transient entertainment.

Memory is an enabler of future action but it is also an indictor of future action. If we encode something into long–term memory the brain has, at a sub-conscious level, decided that it’s useful and may have some further use in the future.

So how can brands ensure that they are getting tucked away into our long-term memories?

Well, there are three key things that affect long-term memory. The first is narrative. We love stories because that is how our brains make sense of the world - by threading separate pieces of information together and creating a trail from one piece of information to another. The second is engagement or personal relevance, as we discussed before. The third is emotional intensity, which really boils down to a basic evolutionary requirement to learn from intense emotional experiences. You don’t want to stumble into a lions’ den twice!

I saw online that Neuro-Insight published a paper on the impact of something called ‘Neuro Conceptual Closure’. Can you explain a bit more about this?

This is really interesting because it’s about how brains capture and process information. As a story unfolds, for example during a TV advert, the brain creates snapshots of information. When our brain senses that the story has ended, it takes all these snapshots and files them away as one bundle. It’s the brain saying ‘ok that bit has ended’. It takes about a second to do this bundling and during this time the brain is pretty unreceptive to anything else going on.

Probably the most common reason for lack of brand linkage in advertising is that the advert follows this pattern: narrative, narrative, punch line, brand. The brand comes after the story has come to a close, exactly when the brain is busy bundling.

Obviously TV / film is very narrative in nature, but I was wondering if you have any thoughts or example of how this could be applied to non-television mediums?

Online advertising (outside of online video) tends to rely less on narrative so Neuro Conceptual Closure will be less of an issue. Banner ads for example are in themselves just single snapshots, which actually can also be quite useful. Say a consumer watched a TV ad and their brain created snapshots that all got bundled together in long-term memory. If they then see a banner ad, which features one of these snapshots, the banner can act as a memory trigger for the whole bundle.

So in our final minutes, I’d love to hear your perspective on the Loop.London platform.

It is an ad platform that rewards users with a free charity donation every time they watch an advert. Users simply choose which charity to donate to and then watch at least 15 seconds of the ad.

What are your thoughts on this concept of rewarded engagement?

Well, it’s a very lovely idea. It reminds of the work one of our clients is doing into users watching an advert as a way to get around paywalls. Our research has found that people watching these adverts in order to access their content had 29% higher memory recall than for matched ads that were presented in a standard format. Which just shows that these ‘watch for …’ models of rewarded engagement really can pay off.

We also know that one of the drivers of memory encoding is physical action, so the fact that you ask users to choose the charity is really good for this.

And do you think that the charitable ‘feel good factor’ might have a positive impact on the effectiveness of the advertising? A hit of dopamine after giving to charity perhaps…

Certainly, all the evidence out there shows that memory works by association. We feel good when we give to charity and this must impact the overall experience in some way.

At the end of the day, everything goes into memory with an emotional colour attached to it. That emotional colour of feeling good will no doubt also attach to the ad.

Heather, along with many other interesting thought-leaders will be speaking at ad:tech London on the 2nd and 3rd of November. You can find out more about Neuro-Insight at

And if you’re interested in finding out more about Loop.London, the ethical ad network, please do get in touch on

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