New Studies Use Neuroscience to Reveal Consumer Responses to Mobile Ads | DMA

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New Studies Use Neuroscience to Reveal Consumer Responses to Mobile Ads


According to researchers, the number of smartphone users will reach 6.1 billion by 2020 - that’s 70% of the global population.1

With nearly 3/4 of the world’s population soon to be reachable through their smartphones, it’s no surprise that brands are dedicating more resources into researching and implementing ways to use digital platforms like mobile to boost sales and increase customer loyalty.

This increase in the use of smartphones also means that the digital landscape is becoming increasingly more saturated and competitive, so the right tools to tap into the minds of consumers are also becoming more valuable than ever.

How do they think? Why do they do what they do? What motivates them to click on one ad over another? And ultimately, what drives them to purchase?

US-based digital advertising and marketing agencies MediaBrix and Kargo recently released two separate reports revealing how neuroscience and psychology can help brands better understand consumer’s neurological and biometric responses to different types of mobile ads before, during and after the moment of delivery - something marketers can’t analyze with traditional surveys or focus groups.

Here are some of the key findings:


MediaBrix, teaming up with neuromarketing research firm True Impact and consultants Neurons Inc, tested mobile users’ reactions to ads delivered in two different formats but with the same creative, using ads from a global confection brand and MillerCoors.

The study found that embedded, opt-in ads that rewarded attention and were presented within the context of user's app experiences yielded eight times more mental engagement, a significantly higher brand recall and positive sentiment than standard full-screen video ads.

MediaBrix also found that consumers engage more with opt-in, mobile video ads that are embedded in the app experience as opposed to interstitial ads - full screen ads displayed during transitional points within an application. The consensus was that full page video interstitial ads triggered fight-or-flight responses at a rate twice that of the embedded opt-in ads — a valuable finding considering the short attention span of digital consumers.

"In order to truly understand consumers' reactions to different ad delivery methods within an app, we decided to go beyond standard physiological data and looked to neuroscience and years of trusted methodologies," said True Impact CEO and neuromarketing expert Diana Lucaci. "What we've learned about the consumer's state in the moment of being approached by a brand speaks to how much a mobile ad can either alienate a consumer or inspire brand affinity. The stakes for marketers are huge here."

Dr. Thomas Ramsoy, PhD, CEO, Neurons Inc. and University of Copenhagen professor: ”As we looked at the neuroscience and biometric data, the disparity between the two mobile ad executions became glaringly obvious. Positive indicators like cognitive load, or engagement, and motivation, the brain's manifestation of wanting, were much stronger in the contextualized, rewarded ad, whereas arousal, or erratic sentiment in the brain, was much more common for standard interstitial ads.”

The study concluded that: “An ad delivery approach that identifies emotionally-meaningful moments and allows a brand to add context and value to the user, maximizes a meaningful brand-consumer relationship and higher return on investment.”


Kargo’s “Captivate vs. Aggravate” study used neuroscience to examine multiple mobile advertising formats in order to determine which are the most captivating for consumers and which were potentially aggravating. The study analyzed consumers’ rational and emotional responses to four mobile ad formats, tracking the users’ neurological responses via eye movements, biometrics and attitudinal changes.

The study’s key findings (via the Kargo press release):

  • Size is important for mobile ads, and bigger is not necessarily better.
  • Interstitial ads, which pop up and block the entire mobile screen, are the most disruptive and intrusive. While “technically” viewable, the attention to this format after it is served by a viewer often drops dramatically.
  • Consumers prefer ads that are in-stream – those that are placed in between mobile editorial content – above all other ads, likely because the engagement is user-controlled.
  • Luckily, ad formats do not impact consumers’ opinions about the brand or the editorial content around the ad.

“A shocking amount of mobile ad dollars are going towards boring – or worse, annoying – ads that alienate consumers and negatively impact user experience,” said AJ Mathew, VP of Research at Kargo. “Ads that draw consumers in and attract attention are more impactful and effective, compared to large, interstitial ads that consumers are visually engaging with, but often because they are trying to close them.”

Lab’s Take

Brands who can tap into the minds of their consumers and incorporate consumer emotion into their digital strategies will hold the keys to leading in the digital age.

More research like these studies from MediaBrix and Kargo - including our own studies at Lab - point to the conclusion that emotion trumps logic every time when it comes to consumer decision-making. This is why we encourage our own clients to transform the way they think about the human side of their consumers and start incorporating neuroscience and psychology into their business, marketing and digital design strategies.

1 - Digital Trends

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