In recent years direct mail advertising has modestly increased in annual volume while digital media has experienced explosive growth. The UK’s Royal Mail wanted to understand the communications effectiveness of physical versus digital media. There was particular interest in understanding the emotional processing evoked by different forms of media given that research has already proved the importance of emotion in driving marketing success. The decision was made to launch research in collaboration with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University.
The research utilized Functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery (fMRI) scanning to understand how the brain reacts to physical and digital stimuli. The fMRI allowed the study to look directly at brain activity and to see regions of the brain most involved in processing advertising. This approach allowed the consideration of subtle respondent processes that would have been difficult to articulate in conventional research.
This research strongly suggests that greater emotional processing is facilitated by the physical material than by the digital. The “real" experience that the physical media provides means it’s better at becoming part of memory. It generates more emotion, which should help to develop more positive brand associations. The real experience is also internalized, which means the materials have a more personal effect, and therefore should aid motivation.
As well as being featured in Royal Mail’s new “Mail in the Digital Age” campaign, targeted at the UK’s top 3,000 advertisers, the findings have been deployed to address more strategic aims. Primarily, these feed into the long-term goal of altering media planners’ preconceptions about the benefits of using mail; and furthermore to promote the benefits of including both physical and digital elements to achieve a “fully-rounded” and multiplier-laden media campaign.
James Kitovitz, Manager, Royal Mail concluded that the Bangor University team came up with a powerful and innovative approach to understand how both physical and digital media are processed by the brain. They successfully turned cutting-edge neuroscience into a practical marketing project, and delivered completely new insight identifying fascinating differences in levels of brain engagement for the two types. This underscores and confirms the intrinsic power of direct mail and that physical media is in significant ways superior to digital media.