Neurological study pits digital ads against physical ads

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The U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General joined with Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making to study the effect of direct mails ads compared with digital ads. The results came out in favor of physical ads.

The study involved eye-tracking, fingertip sensors that monitored emotional responses such as heart rate, respiration and sweating and MRI scans to reveal brain activity. A mix of 40 email ads and printed postcards were shown to study subjects to ascertain their reaction.

Results showed that the printed postcards were superior to the email ads in four of the nine ad attributes measured – engagement time, emotional reaction, recall and creation of a subconscious desire for a product. Meanwhile, email ads were superior in just one attribute – focusing a customer’s attention.

In particular, it was found that postcards triggered the brain’s center of desirability and value leading the researchers to conclude that physical ads have a deeper and longer-lasting effect that digital ads in instilling desire for a product.

“These findings have practical implications for marketers. If short on time, the digital format captures attention quicker,” says the report ‘Enhancing the Value of Mail: The Human Response‘. “However, for longer lasting impact and easy recollection, a physical mailpiece is the superior option that could lead to a purchase. This suggests a complementary effect between the two formats that could provide a powerful way for marketers to optimize their media mix, especially as companies look to reach digitally connected customers.”



Kristina Knight is a freelance writer based in Ohio, United States. She began her career in radio and television broadcasting, focusing her energies on health and business reporting. After six years in the industry, Kristina branched out on her own. Since 2001, her articles have appeared in Family Delegate, Credit Union Business, and with Threshold Media.