Spark Experience DNA

Neuroscience Reveals the Mysteries of Digital Advertising

Adweek paid a visit to the SPARK Experience lab to explore our groundbreaking biometric research. Here is a glimpse behind the scenes of our research.

BrainWave in action

Our latest study, as featured in Adweek’s article Here’s How Neuroscience Can Help Improve Mobile Marketing,” focuses on one of the most pressing questions in online advertising today. Light Reaction, a Xaxis company, hired SPARK to uncover some of advertising’s greatest mysteries, using our BrainWave technology.

Are those fullscreen mobile ads really more valuable?


Image from Adweek’s article “Here’s How Neuroscience Can Help Improve Mobile Marketing: This is Your Brain on Smartphones.”

The advertising industry sure thinks so. That is evidenced by the cost comparisons, where interstitial (full screen) ads cost many times that of traditional banner ads (embedded in the content). Then again, the other day I bought a two buck chuck that was far better than a $40 bottle of wine I opened the same night – proving cost and value don’t always correlate.

In order to answer this question, we used BrainWave, our unique blend of eye tracking, EEG, GSR, and other biometrics to fully analyze where people paid most attention and what emotions were produced.

Visual Attention: Hey! What are you looking at?


Mobile marketing isn’t limited to content heavy sites – we’ve done in-game testing too! Also ask us about TV ads, movie trailers, and anything that is meant to produce an emotion.

Let’s start with measuring visual attention with eye tracking.

Here’s what you instinctually already knew.

When ads appear, whether embedded in the content or taking over the full screen, your primary objective is to get away from the ad and back to the task at hand.

Here’s the question you probably can’t yet answer.

Despite the fact that your main goal is to get away from the ad as fast as possible, one ad type still succeeded in getting more eyeballs than the other.

You might presume it was the full screen pop-up. After all, you can’t help but see it when it flashes in front of your face. Or perhaps your instincts are so well-honed that all of your visual attention goes straight to the X in the corner of the ad that allows you to close it, without ever even glancing at the ad content itself.

Maybe that ad embedded between paragraphs on a news article is something you scrolled right past, blind to its contents. On the other hand, perhaps you couldn’t help but be attracted to it as you scroll through the page.

Cognitive Attention: Hey! What are you thinking?


Part of our mobile marketing testing toolbox: an EEG headset.

Note: There is a difference between visual attention and cognitive attention. Just because your gaze landed on something doesn’t mean your brain processed it. This is where cognitive attention comes in.

Here’s something else you instinctually already knew.

Sometimes when you see an ad, your eyes clearly pause on it, but if I asked you just seconds later what ad you saw, you may not even remember what was being advertised. That’s because the wheels in your brain weren’t turning. Something else was more important.

Unraveling a mystery.

These two different ad types have different effects on their viewers. Regardless of visual attention, did the full screen ads produce more mental engagement or was the embedded banner ad the thing that makes you go hmmmm (Anyone? C+C Music Factory. 1991)?

Emotion: Hey! How did that make you feel?


Mobile marketing testing preparation in our lab.

Those ads that pop up and take over your whole screen are annoying, aren’t they? Or have most of us gotten used to them so we just close them without being bothered?

How about the banner ads? Is that just an easy scroll-by or does it actually frustrate you in your tracks.

These emotions may even have residual effects on perceptions of the brand being advertised.


The answer to which type of ad wins out – at visual attention, cognitive attention, and emotion – is bound to surprise you! We’d love to share the results of our study with you. Please send us a note to request a summary of our findings…