The eyes have it: why your ad fails

Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy

January 7, 2021

The old John Wanamaker quote still stands: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” But there’s a change: we can now use neuroscience methods to pinpoint exactly what goes wrong, and where the budget should be put!

The facts of ad fails

Make a Google query of "ad fails" and you get over a billion results, and a ton of different examples, blog posts, and articles. A simple but powerful testament to the idea that advertising is far from being a done deal, a solved task, and that advertising "just works." But as to why these fails happen, the industry is still struggling... Some experts suggest that ads might fail because the ads are too demanding and polished, they are too informing, too entertaining, or too decorating without being able to persuade the audience. Others stress that this leads the majority of many businesses to doubt that the ads have any effect.

The eyes have it

Most of the expert explanations provide details that are more psychological and even sociological. But there are many reasons to be found in what cannot be stated or experienced: our unconscious responses to ads are critical insights that cannot be overstated. One obvious effect is what we pay attention to.

By using eye-tracking methods, it is possible to track what people look at. What they see and what they miss, and even to measure attention as it fluctuates with millisecond accuracy. Studies after studies have demonstrated that eye-tracking is a powerful and reliable method for measuring, understanding, and improving customer attentions both to ads and other visual contents.

The return of the corner of death

No more than two years ago, we wrote about the corner of death in advertising. The basic problem is that a lot of advertising presents key information in the lower right corner of advertisements. This is where they typically put their brand, assuming that the viewer will automatically look at it after seeing the ad.

The problem is that when we do eye-tracking studies, we can see that visual attention just doesn't get down to the bottom right corner. Any corner is bad, actually, but the bottom right corner is definitely a place of attention "death." At the time, we referred to the works of Dan Hill, who stated the following about ads and the bottom right corner:

"Fully 42% of the advertising we’ve tested over the years places either the primary logo/brand identity there or else it’s the only place where the logo/brand identity appears."

So how does this hold up against recent data we have accumulated at Neurons?

Falling prey to the corner of death

As part of our growing database of 12.000+ participants and tens of thousands of visual materials, we have gone over the ads that we have tested with eye-tracking. We randomly selected 100 ads from this database. We then counted the times that the brand was shown in each of the four corners or centrally. The results were staggering! Almost half of the ads we looked at had the brand positioned in the bottom right corner.

A summary of where brands are positions in the tested ads. This is exactly the opposite of where companies should position their brand. To perform in the best way possible, ads should put the brands centrally. Here, attention is maximal and around 75% of those that see the ad will see the brand. If anything, the bottom right corner is the worst place to put the brand. Here, attention is virtually zero!

Analyzing the ads and why they fail

In the following, you can see some of the ads we analyzed, and their eye-tracking heat maps. It is pretty obvious that the brands rarely are seen. So ask yourself: what will the viewer take away from each of these ads? Is the ad sufficiently informative to still make the viewer understand what it is about, or do you have to get attention to the brand for the audience to make the link? In most cases, the latter is the case. Below are some examples of ads that were included in the analysis, showing the eye-tracking heat maps:

If you wonder why ads fail, the first question is simple: check whether the brand is shown in the bottom right corner. If it's there, you've already failed. Moving it away -- and preferably more centrally -- will alleviate at least the attention part of the ad performance. It's a simple yet extremely powerful advice, all based on the power of neuroscience.

Utilize Predict yourself to gain actionable insights about your brand placement. Book a demo with us to explore the platform and find out how it suits your needs.

The eyes have it: why your ad fails

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