Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail

In 2007 Britain’s Royal Mail sought to understand the differences in how online and print media communicate a message. To find out, we used cutting-edge neuroscience to bring new insight into how the brain engages with these two types of media, insight not accessible through conventional research. Given the proven importance of emotional resonance in driving marketing success, the focus of this groundbreaking research was studying the brain’s subconscious processing as subjects looked at images presented first on screen (to simulate the online experience) and then on printed cards.

Our findings were fascinating. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we saw that the physical material facilitated greater emotional processing—seen as more brain activity in the area associated with the integration of visual and spatial information—suggesting it is more real to the subject. The benefits for advertisers here are multifold. Greater emotional involvement leads to more positive brand associations along with easier brand recall. As well, this more tangible experience is also more readily internalized by the viewer, which means the ads should have a more personal effect that in turn positively influences motivation. Our findings helped Royal Mail’s media planners alter their preconceptions about direct mail and convinced them of the benefits of using both print and online creative to achieve a multilayered and effective media campaign.

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