Effective Branding Moments Through a Neuroscience Lens

You don’t need us to remind you how expensive Super Bowl ads are – once per year, Americans gather to play judge in the high stakes game of “please remember our brand in 60 seconds or less.” Advertisers know the pressure is on: what’s the point of laying out all that cash if your advertisement is as forgettable as a disembodied voice unenthusiastically educating you on car features or listing product benefits?

Trying to leverage an economy car or the speed of your network to deliver a memorable brand experience is a universal struggle for advertisers. It doesn’t help that too often these advertisers are guilty of following a pattern of using what we call a branding moment – showing your product or the brand’s logo at the end of the advertisement with no other distracting visuals.

Sadly, by the time an ad reaches its last seconds, our brains often have a natural way of glazing over these crucial final branding moments. Some advertisers try to push back on this neurological tendency by building anticipation and ending on a branding-moment climax (which can work! But not always.). Others try to interweave the entertaining segments with brand or product images, hoping to build a more memorable experience for viewers. But even this approach has mixed success.


Let’s dive into this some more by putting two ads from this year’s Super Bowl head-to-head. Using a combination of neuroanalytics and biometrics to measure emotion and attention, SPARK Neuro quantifies audience engagement in real time. This moment-by-moment analysis shows advertisers where and how an ad can capture audiences with a memorable branding moment.

Caveat! There are many ways to measure an ad’s success. Here we are looking at one specific, but absolutely critical, measure—branding. It’s one thing to create an ad that people like, but do people pay attention and experience heightened emotions when the brandis presented?

Let’s see some competition!

In the Red Corner, we have Hyundai’s “The Elevator” featuring Jason Bateman. USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter ranked this ad 4thbest – a great result for any advertiser! And in the Blue Corner, Expensify’s “Expensify This” music video ad featuring 2Chainz and Adam Scott – ranked 42nd by the same measure. That’s almost last.


Let’s see where it went wrong for Expensify:


Expensify comes out of its corner strong! The distinctive music video feel is a refreshing contrast to more standard ads, and generates emotional intensity among our viewers. Sadly for 2Chainz, this effectiveness is short lived.

Participant engagement flatlines as the music cuts out and “record label finance” Adam Scott is introduced. With the flow of the ad broken, and the  “advertising” part of the commercial now underway, participant engagement sinks as the conversation drags on without any music.


It’s not all doom and gloom for Expensify: attention and emotion have a small resurgence as the music picks up and the lyrics “snap it with Expensify” are sang alongside shots of the app in action. However, without a strong visual tie-in to the brand (where’s the Expensify logo in the app shot!), Expensify isn’t capitalizing on this moment.

The ad ends on a low note: engagement drops off as the song continues and the brand logo is introduced. By the time we get to the branding moment, participants have entirely lost interest.

Overall, while Expensify had a few decent frames where it integrated the product and brand into this ad’s story, the company missed its opportunity to further engage its audience when it truly mattered.


Hyundai was ranked much higher – what went right for them?


The Hyundai ad starts out with engagement relatively low and flat for the first 20 seconds. Even the introduction of Jason Bateman doesn’t do much to capture viewers’ attention. So far, it’s lagging behind Expensify’s comparative strong start.

The first joke to really land is one we can likely all relate to, as the doors open to the flight scene and “six hour flight middle seat” is announced. Both attention and emotion metrics jump, causing engagement to spill over to the next scene.

Hyundai takes a turn for the worse with its vegan dinner party joke, dragging on for a bit too long and not getting the laughs it was hoping for. By SPARK Neuro’s metrics, this 10 second scene could have been shortened or even axed.

But as the ad reaches its punchline and we hear the words “Hyundai? Going up!” participant engagement skyrockets. Audience engagement continues to rise as the elevator doors open on the Hyundai. The visuals – so far rather dark and bland – brighten, as angelic music comes in, the brand logo is shown, and our disembodied economy car educator does his stuff.

When the shot moves back to the elevator for an extended time, the audience starts to disengage, but all is not lost as there is rise in both attention and emotion when the product is reintroduced. Jumping quickly between the elevator and the heaven-like showroom guarded against disengagement, while also creating contrast and strengthening the final moment where the Hyundai is shown.

What Hyundai created here is the perfect combination of buildup and release not only on the storytelling front, but also from an audio and visual perspective. Not only does the brand double as the ad’s punchline – because buying a Hyundai is actually not a bad experience – the branding moment is presented in such contrast to the rest of the ad that it’s all culminating in the perfect branding moment.


Ultimately, Expensify made a valiant effort, going beyond a plain branding moment by integrating its product into the ad’s story, but in the end missed the mark to really connect with audiences. Hyundai on the other hand, managed quite a feat – especially for the auto industry – by making its branding moment the ad’s highest engagement peak.

Whether an ad airs during the Super Bowl, or any other day of the year, making the most of your branding moment can go a long way!