Hard news makes readers pay attention to ads, research says

New research shows that news stories that pack a punch work harder for advertisers.

The new neuroscience research from Britain's Newsworks with Neuro-Insight indicates that ads which appear around hard news stories on newsbrand sites elicit more and higher peaks in memory encoding and emotional intensity than ads in soft news stories.

The results were being presented today at an IAB 'town hall' event by Newsworks' insight director Denise Turner, and show that the news environment can create high engagement and memory encoding for advertisers in both hard and soft news contexts.

She says 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.

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, which creates potential 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 there is more likelihood of key advertising messages being absorbed. This is because of the higher and more frequent peaks in memory encoding and emotional intensity.

Neuro-Insight also explored conscious responses to ads in hard and soft news stories in newsbrand content, to compare with the unconscious brain responses measured by neuroscience. They found that people can easily distinguish between hard and soft news stories and describe the emotions provoked, and that just because something is difficult, it can still be enjoyed:

86 per cent agree that they "know that the role of newsbrands is to keep me up to date with all kinds of stories and that sometimes they can be upsetting or shocking"

89 per cent "like browsing my newsbrands 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

Denise Turner says it was already known that trusted newsbrand 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. While care needs to be taken, 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 so that brands can reap the rewards of conveying their messages to a highly attentive, intensely engaged audience in a compelling, emotionally powerful context."

Methodology: 133 participants took part, aged 18-65 years, 50 per cent print and 50 per cent online newsbrand readers.

Following the launch event, Newsworks will be working with the IAB and industry partners to develop best practice guidelines to ensure that brands can safely take advantage of the great environment that published media offers.

Read the full research story here.