A recent YouTube/Ipsos study explored the interaction between traditional TV advertising and YouTube pre-roll ads. 2400 study participants were placed in 3 groups: TV only, YouTube only, and TV plus YouTube. The TV plus YouTube group showed twice the brand recall of the TV-only group for 15 second ads, and one and a half times the brand recall for 30 second ads.
In the YouTube-only vs TV-only competition, YouTube trounced TV for 15 second ads, while they ran neck and neck for 30 second spots.
Why does cross-channel advertising work better for brand recall than single-channel? Research suggests several mechanisms. I want to talk about four of them:
- Eraser events
- Implicit and explicit memory
- Pattern recognition
- Ubiquity as a form of social proof
Eraser Events and Implicit Memory
“Walking through doorways causes forgetting” is a central finding in the research of Notre Dame professor Gabriel Radvansky. He found that the act of walking from one room to another can cause us to forget about decisions we made in the first room, such as getting a sweater. So we can wander into a new room and then have no clue what we were going go to do once we got there. Passage through a doorway acts, according to Radvansky, as an “eraser event” that the mind uses to compartmentalize information.
I’ve experienced a version of this when I don’t recognize a member of my Ultimate Frisbee team when I encounter them at Trader Joe’s. At the field I know his name, where he works, which knee he favors, and a bunch of other important facts. In the dried fruit aisle, he’s simply vaguely familiar. Maybe, I think, I just saw him in the frozen foods aisle. Or maybe he works here.
While this is not news to those of us who routinely forget what we were going to do in the living room once we left the kitchen, it has implications for the recall of advertising as well. An ad that we see on the TV in our den gets compartmentalized. Our brain, always trying to converse resources and clear things out of consciousness (RAM), has no need to remember that the car ad we just saw was for Volvo, and that it was for the 4-door sedan.
Multi-screen advertising addresses the doorway problem by reminding us of what we’ve forgotten. When we see an ad on TV and file it away, the same ad on YouTube before our video snack of epic skiing disasters resurrects our memory.
Memory researchers have found that studying for a test is most effective when we study in several different settings. Advertising appears to increase its effectiveness when it reaches us via multiple screens and in multiple settings.
Implicit and Explicit Memory
When we “forget” something, what does that really mean? We don’t delete the information permanently; rather, we do something more like “archiving.” The information is still “in there somewhere,” even though we can’t access it at will.
Chan Yun Yoo, assistant professor at U of Kentucky, makes sense of this phenomenon by distinguishing between explicit and implicit memory. Explicit memory is stuff we can recall at will: our favorite sports team, the Big Mac jingle, our anniversary (hopefully). Implicit memory is the stuff that lies dormant in the recesses of our minds, requiring a trigger for recall.
If that trigger occurs at point of sale, advertisers are ecstatic: “Hey, look, it’s Hurts Like Hell aftershave. I remember seeing an ad for it where a marine and a professional wrestler are rolling around on the ground in agony after applying a dab to their cheeks. I think I’ll try a bottle.”
Some products don’t appear at point of sale. You’re not likely to impulse buy a Volvo, for example. A brand like that wants to put its value proposition (Safety, or as Dudley Moore put it in Crazy People, “Boxy but good”) into your explicit, recall-at-will memory.
Multi-channel advertising, combined with repetition, does this by enlisting one of the most persistent habits of the human mind: pattern recognition.
According to Nobel prize-winning neurobiologist Gerald Edelman, the human brain operates by pattern recognition. The ability to see patterns has been crucial to human survival, enhancing our ability to hunt and forage, avoid dangerous predators, and choose healthy mates. When we see a pattern, our brain rewards us with a hit of dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasurable feelings.
We get this rush of pleasure when we connect something in the present with a similar something in the past. When I finally recognize the vaguely familiar Trader Joe’s shopper as my Frisbee teammate, I get a powerful hit of “the penny drops.” I may even blurt out something stupid, like, “Oh, you’re Ethan!”
The same thing may be happening when we see a familiar ad on a new medium. “Hey, it’s Hurts So Good. I remember this from my living room.” The pattern recognition circuitry rewards us more profoundly when we have to make a bit of a leap. I don’t get a mental high every time I wake up and go, “Oh wow, that lady sleeping next to me is awfully familiar. Now I remember; that’s my wife!” The leap from TV to computer may be enough to reward us with a hit of the pattern recognition good stuff.
Ubiquity as Social Proof
The fourth mechanism by which multi-channel advertising seems to work is by making the brand seem like it’s “everywhere.” Our AdWords clients who use remarketing (ads that follows their website visitors around the web) benefit from the perception of ubiquity: “Wow, these guys are everywhere. They must be huge.”
“As Seen On TV” has been used for years as a credibility booster. Now, with so much of our attention directed toward second and third and fourth screens (computers, smartphones, and tablets), the new mantra is starting to become “As Seen Everywhere.”
A Strategic Approach to YouTube/TV Synergy
If you’ve got enough bucks for a television campaign, how should you think about incorporating YouTube into the mix? Initially, use it as an extremely inexpensive and flexible testing medium. Find what works best on YouTube and then leverage the results to costly offline media.
To do this, you need to have something to measure, and neither “brand awareness” and “implicit memory” qualify. Include a soft and inviting call to action in the YouTube ad: click for a coupon, like a Facebook page in exchange for exclusive offers, or simply click to learn more. When the offer is brand-related, as opposed to a contest or sweepstakes that appeals to non-prospects as well as prospects, the level of viewer engagement can serve as a proxy for the effectiveness of the messaging.
Once you have an engaging message, you can unleash that message on TV minus the direct-response elements. Instead of making YouTube an afterthought, use it as the foundation as you develop and refine your messaging.
And you should probably get started before you leave this room‚ lest you forget.