How the BBC ties memory to branded content effectiveness

For content studios to continue growing, they need to prove their ads work.

BBC StoryWorks, the content marketing division of BBC Global News, has studied how content triggers long-term memory and in turn drives results for brands. The Science of Memory study, which came out Oct. 11, is an extension of the work the BBC started in 2016 to understand how emotion, measured through eye-tracking and facial coding, moves the needle for branded content.

StoryWorks tested six branded videos on over 2,000 respondents using facial coding, eye-tracking and measuring long-term memory in four markets: the U.S., Germany, Australia and Singapore. The brands were e-commerce platform DHL, Mini, Korean Air, Rocky Mountaineer, Dubai Tourism and Seychelles Tourism. Across all six films, StoryWorks found a 61 percent increase in brand consideration compared with the control group.

The findings inform how StoryWorks advises brands to create content that people are likely to remember. The studio will also offer long-term memory measurement as part of post-campaign analysis. StoryWorks works with emotion technology firm CrowdEmotion and neuroscience firm Neuro-Insight.

“For a while, we have been understanding emotional engagement in branded films. The next step was looking at other aspects and how do we make things enduring,” said Hamish McPharlin, head of insight at BBC Global News. “It’s fine to say there’s an impact, but we need to look at, how long does the impact last? Traditionally researchers measured decay effect by calling people up a week after exposing them.”

The ad for Mini features film art director Jacinda Leong talking about how to choose film locations. Tests indicated there is a window of long-term memory after an emotional peak. When Leong says that design is not a journey but a destination, which triggered emotions of happiness among viewers, the Mini brand is shown on the steering wheel and eye-tracking found people were drawn to it.

The Science of Memory study confirms some suspicions, like the bigger the emotional spike, the more likely it is to trigger long-term memory. It also concluded that branded content videos containing over 10 emotional moments score high in consideration and in how the brand ranks against competitors. Also, videos where emotional states were established in the first third of the film did better at triggering longer-term memory.

“This is not a gimmick. However, the challenge is always in the application of it as a planning tool, rather than simply a post-campaign evaluation one,” said Dino Myers-Lamptey, U.K. managing director for MullenLowe MediaHub agency.

Emotional analytics are a growing part of what agencies offer and clients demand, agreed Richard Stokes, global head of content for Wavemaker. “For facial coding, there’s a reliance on desktop users because of the need for the webcam. So much video is consumed on mobile, I’d need to understand how the insight from desktop research can be applied to the very different mobile experience.”

BBC StoryWorks has 40 employees globally across roles including strategy, project management, content, developers and social media managers and can also draw on Global News’ 400 other employees. StoryWorks derives around 50 percent of ad revenue from content-led deals, up from 30 percent in 2016. Of 200 branded content campaigns it has run in the past year, 15 have used the emotional measurement tools like eye-tracking and facial coding, and another eight are in the pipeline. The majority were new clients, according to the studio. StoryWorks doesn’t charge clients extra for using these tools but will only run them on campaigns above a certain budget. The Telegraph also offers similar tools on campaign budgets over £500,000 ($660,000).

While StoryWorks can’t run branded content in the U.K. on BBC sites, the arm of the broadcaster funded by the license fee payer, it can run branded content on client platforms and social media. “This is very timely,” said Richard Pattinson, svp of BBC StoryWorks. “This will introduce us as a commercial entity. People think of us as limited in commercial activity in the U.K.”

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