Conceptual closure and failing ads

Thomas Z. Ramsøy

August 5, 2020

Recent studies show that abrupt scene changes in an ad can ruin the moment of branding. But such errors are easy to avoid. Here, we show you how the Predict score, Cognitive Demand, can be used to boost branding in commercials.

There is an abundance of ads that get a lot of attention, but where people forget which brand was behind the ad. How can this be? Let's take an example from the antiquity of commercials. 10 years ago Evian released a commercial that went viral, but their branding fell short. Let's first have a look at the ad below. Many might already recall it:

As you might have guessed, the ad went viral, even by today's standards. When studying viewers' responses, it was clear that ad liking was extremely high. But at the same time, in several studies, we repeatedly found that people could not remember what the ad was for. Perhaps ad liking cannibalized brand attention and thereby brand memory?

Conceptual closure & doorways

Now, we have another possible solution: conceptual closure. This term can be defined as the existence of event boundaries, or scene shifts, in a visual narrative. For example, if you are watching a video of something, and the scene shifts abruptly, you can say that you have been exposed to a conceptual closure.

This is also related to a term called the doorway effect -- the fact that we sometimes forget what we were supposed to do after walking from one room to another. Studies into this effect suggest that when we walk through doorways, the brain "resets" and you can lose your train of thought.

In a recent study published in our co-edited special issue in Frontiers in Neuroscience, it was shown that conceptual closure could affect the success of branding in ads. Crucially, it was found that if conceptual closure occurred at the time of branding, it was more likely that viewers forgot what the ad was for.

A Predict metric for conceptual closure

Fortunately, there are good news. Conceptual closure can be measured, and it can be measured automatically!

Predict has several scores, but one score is particularly relevant for tracking conceptual closure: Cognitive Demand. This score shows how much information there is in an image or video frame at any one time. It is an index of how much demand the image puts on the viewer. The higher the score, the more demand, and the more likely it is that the viewer will be overloaded with information.

When measuring conceptual closure and scene shifts, we can look more on whether there are any abrupt changes in the Cognitive Demand score. Here, a scene shift that changes the visual quality of the image will lead to a drop or increase in the Cognitive Demand score.

Conceptual closure in the Evian ad

When we look back at the Evian ad, the two most critical time points for branding happen in the beginning and the end. Here, there are visually distinct changes that are reflected in both the Cognitive Demand score, as well as the Focus score. This shows how there is a strong conceptual closure effect at stake, and that these moments might be where the branding is failing.

From many perspectives, the ad creators have done many things right: they have shown the brand front and center in the beginning and end of the ad. But had they known about the adverse effects of conceptual closure on branding, they would have thought otherwise. Now, Predict even provides a measure for conceptual closure.

Conceptual closure to the Evian ad, as indexed by two Predict scores: Cognitive Demand and Focus.

Image insets and arrows indicate the two critical time points for branding in the ad, which also corresponds to dramatic changes in both Cognitive Demand and Focus scores.

How to avoid conceptual closure in branding

It's now obvious that you should be aware of conceptual closure in your ads at the time of branding. It can kill your branding efforts, even when the ad is a viral hit.

So how can you combine a great narrative and visual appeal, while avoiding too strong conceptual closure? Let's have a look at an Old Spice ad. Pay attention to whether there are any abrupt changes in Cognitive Demand, especially at the time of branding. See any?

A Predict analysis of the Old Spice ad (no sound) showing the Predict prediction heat map, and the Cognitive Demand and Focus scores. Please note how well-balanced the ad is on Cognitive Demand, showing virtually no signs of conceptual closure, and even less around the times of brand placement. This helps ensure that the brand is both seen and that viewers are not abruptly distracted from viewing the brand.

As you can see, the ad performs admirably on brand placement and the lack of conceptual closures. This is also reflected in the fact that the ad is generally very well remembered and liked, and that brand memory was shown to be very high. And in the video, you can note how well the brand and product gets attention at critical and sustained periods throughout the ad.

It is not so that conceptual closure is a bad thing. It is an important way to use visual shifts to indicate a critical phase and shift in mind state. But you need to be aware of how such changes can have a detrimental effect on the message or branding that you want to provide at a critical time.

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Conceptual closure and failing ads

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