Applying neuroscience to Cannes-winning work: It's a Tide ad

For the eighth year running, Neuro-Insight has teamed up with AdNews to unlock the brain’s take on creativity, by taking a deeper look at some of the Cannes award winners from this year. The Tide ad was first aired during the 2018 US Super Bowl and has gone on to win a Gold Lion in the film category. 

Neuro-Insight measured and analysed brain activity to see how female and male viewers responded to this ad. The specific technology used by Neuro-Insight is founded in work originally developed for academic and neuroscience research and has been previously used to analyse the effectiveness of Cannes award winners for over eight years in partnership with AdNews.

Our approach

Neuro-Insight technology allows us to record viewer’s second-by-second changes in approach (like) or withdraw (dislike), emotional intensity, engagement and memory as they watch an ad.

The measure Neuro-Insight predominantly focusses on, based on its strong and highly-researched link in influencing consumer behaviours is long-term memory encoding. This measure reveals what the brain is storing (or encoding) into conscious and unconscious long-term memory.

Neuro-Insight’s memory encoding graph reveals how elements of the ad are stored in long-term memory. The higher the graph, the more strongly that moment in an ad is stored in memory and the more likely it will influence consumer behaviour.

It's a Tide ad….

This Tide Cannes Gold Lion winner by Saatchi and Saatchi comprises a series of vignettes that hilariously parody Super Bowl ads. The ad opens with vignettes that give the appearance of a luxury car ad, which is immediately morphs into a beer ad only for that to transition to what seems like an ad crafted by a creative still high from the night before. 

From then on, each vignette humorously ends with a voice-over announcing ‘it’s a Tide ad’ and then transitions to the next in a seemingly random and yet increasingly frenetic manner. The frenzy closes with the main actor asking ‘so does this make every Super Bowl ad a Tide ad?’

Emotional Intensity tracks the pace of the ad

Unsurprisingly, the ad powerfully engages the audience emotionally. Emotional intensity starting in a modest range appears to track the increasingly frenetic pace of the ad to more than double its value at the concluding vignette. 

If the sole purpose of the ad was to drive emotion (irrespective of commercial effectiveness) then this ad would be a success on the basis of the emotional intensity measure alone.


Entertaining but is it effective?

Our studies indicate that the most powerful indicator of advertising effectiveness is the level of long-term memory encoding at the time of branding or key message. 


For most of the ad, long-term memory encoding, both left hemisphere (red trace) and right hemisphere (blue trace) appear to follow a similar trajectory to that of emotional intensity. 

While various scenes are associated with high levels of long-term memory encoding, the overall pattern is for long-term memory encoding to peak at the final vignette where the actor asks ‘so, does this make every Super Bowl ad a Tide ad?’ 

From this point on, long-term memory plummets as the voice-over answers ‘I think it does’ and Tide visual branding appears for the first and last time.

Given the fact that long-term memory at branding is such a critical indicator of advertising effectiveness, does that mean the Cannes jury got it wrong and selected a highly entertaining creative ad that would be a dud in terms of effectiveness?

Before answering this, a word of explanation as to why long-term memory metaphorically fell off a cliff during visual branding at the end of the ad.  We have seen this effect frequently and it is one of the most common and avoidable mistakes that creative directors make.

The drop in long-term memory encoding is an example of conceptual closure. This is the transient drop in long-term memory encoding that occurs when the brain identifies the conceptual end of an event or narrative. Such a drop in long-term memory encoding is not in itself a sign of failure, but simply the way the brain processes extended narratives and experiences.

Conceptual closure can be a big problem if it occurs at the only time that branding or the key message occurs in the ad. So, on this basis, is the Tide ad a dud?  We say unequivocally ‘no’.

Saatchi and Saatchi’s creative brilliantly managed Conceptual Closure. Had branding been limited to the final visual branding (a common strategy in advertising), this ad, while immensely entertaining would have been commercially ineffective. 

Instead, what Saatchi and Saatchi did was to weave the brand into the core narrative of the ad. Thus, the high level of long-term memory encoding driven by the narrative humour also powerfully encodes the multiple verbal branding of ‘it’s a Tide ad’ making this a most effective piece of communication.

The verdict

The sustained growth in emotional intensity and memory encoding is a very difficult outcome to achieve – this demonstrates just how engaging the storyline is. In all, a superb example of how to integrate a brand into an entertaining narrative. This makes it an outstandingly effective piece of communication.

See: Applying neuroscience to Cannes-winning work: Unlocking Apple's iPhone X ad

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day.

comments powered by Disqus