Neuroscience Study Finds Ads on Pandora Outperform TV and Radio Spots

Can songs shape memories?

Pandora and Neuro-Insight studied how music impacted the long-term memory potential of ads. Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Source: Getty Images
Headshot of Marty Swant

Much has been written about what our brains look like on music. But what kind of chords are struck when songs play with ads?

To better understand how personalized listening affects the impact of advertising, Pandora commissioned Neuro-Insight—a neuro-marketing company—to measure brain activity in real time as 100 people were exposed to various ads while listening to between 25 and 30 minutes of their personalized playlists. According to the findings, audio advertising elicited a better emotional response in the part of the brain related to long-term memory.

The results, expected to be released today, said that the audio ads within Pandora impacted participants’ long-term memory 49 percent better than terrestrial radio, 36 percent better than TV commercials and 29 percent better than mobile video ads. Pandora’s video ads also performed better, showing to be 5 percent more effective than mobile video ads on other platforms.

According to Neuro-Insights CEO Pranav Yadav, long term memory is like a brain’s hard disk and short term memory is like RAM (random access memory). Every time we restart our computer, the RAM resets. So when it comes to ads, forgetting meaning can act the same way unless it fits into our longer term thoughts.

“If brands are able to make it into people’s long term memory, it’s only then that people go out and purchase that product in the market,” Yadav told Adweek.

Long-term memories can be both implicit and explicit. Sometimes we might remember an actual name or logo, but other times we might just feel like something is familiar. Pandora said the impact on “long-term memory is more than just recall, it includes subconscious memories and is correlated with future consumer purchase behavior.” The results will be used to help Pandora pitch its ad products to brands, according to Keri Degroote, Pandora’s vp of research and analytics. She said the ads were just as effective with older listeners as with younger listeners.

“We hypothesized that ads served in a high-quality, personal and emotive environment would lead to a superior neurometric response compared to the norms Neuro-Insight has established for other media types,” Degroote said in a statement about the findings. “We were anxious to explore collecting data in this new way—and were even more encouraged by what it told us about the power of contextual relevance.”

Pandora isn’t the only company that’s interested in better understanding how ads affect the brain. Last month, video tech company Teads released the results of a study it also did with Neuro-Insight, and last year, WPP agency Light Reaction went to Bethesda, Md, to test how people react to mobile ads. (Light Reaction’s results showed interstitial ads only performed slightly better than banners.)

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.