Your Brain on Donald Trump

October 7, 2016 Steven Stroupes


Dx3 & Brainsights Present: Screen Science

The 2016 US Presidential Election has been anything but dull so far. But with the first General Election Debate scheduled for this coming Monday, September 26th, candidates are now in the final stretch where they must convince voters to turn out for them at the polls in November. While the debates will undoubtedly play a role in persuading voters, video-based advertising is also sure to flood the airways as election day creeps closer. But with an ever increasing number of devices on which to engage voters and a plethora of different messages to engage them with, the question becomes: how can political candidates make the most from their campaign dollars?


At Dx3 2016, Brainsights set out to understand just that. Attendees who dropped by the BrainLab were invited to don cutting edge wearable electroencephalography (EEG) devices while they consumed political messaging across 4 different devices: Mobile, Tablet, Laptop and TV. Participant brainwave activity was measured every 2 milliseconds as they consumed the content and piped back in the form of 3 distinct, yet highly intertwined measures: Attention (e.g. – Is the audience paying attention to the message?), Connection (e.g. – Is the message resonating with them on an emotional level?) and Encoding (e.g. – What is the likelihood that the viewer will remember what they are seeing/hearing?).

Screen Size Impacts Our Ability to Focus on Visually Demanding Ads

The physical size of the screen impacts our ability to pay attention to ads that demand more from us (more characters on screen, more story lines, more text, faster transitions, etc.). This makes mobile ill-suited for ads with more going on.

For example, “Vote TOGETHER” from Bernie Sanders used many characters and very rapid visual transitions (as many as 6 per second). The small size of the mobile screen doesn’t allow the viewer to absorb the nuance of this detail, causing the audience to tune out. Attention levels drop by 16% on Mobile vs all other devices, driving sharp declines in Connection and Encoding as well.


Similarly, large amounts of text on screen also drives audience tune out. “Trump Questions” relied heavily on text to highlight important facts within the broader message. However, the large amount of text (not to mention asking viewers to contemplate Trump’s stance on healthcare, Obama and partisan politics in only 30 seconds) was simply too much for mobile viewers to take in, resulting in a 19% drop in Attention, Connection and Encoding levels vs all other devices.


Content Alignment with Primary Device Usage Occasion is Critical

In addition to screen size, the primary usage occasion for the device should also be a consideration when developing content that is meant to live on specific (or many) channels. TVs, which are primarily used for viewing long-form, story-driven content was best suited for that style of content. 2 of the 10 ads screened featured stories focusing on the candidates’ journeys throughout the political career, and both of these ads finished in the Top 3 overall on TV.

Tablets are an interesting hybrid device in that they are often used less interstitially than mobiles (you don’t often whip out your iPad to check a text while on the TTC), but like mobiles they are typically used for short-form content consumption (compared to watching an hour of Game of Thrones on TV). However, their larger screens are meant to enable more immersive experiences with that content. Consequently, content featuring Donald Trump (one of the most socially talked about candidates in US election history) enjoyed an amplifier effect when consumed on a tablet. Compared to all other devices, Trump content on tablets garnered 22% higher levels of emotional Connection, yielding significantly higher levels of Attention and Encoding as well.


Key Takeaways for Content Creators

As the number of touch points on which to engage consumers grows, the importance for marketers to deploy omni-channel strategies will grow as well. But developing a single piece of creative and sending it out cross device won’t be enough to maximize consumer engagement. A very visually complex ad that works on TV won’t necessarily be processed the same way on mobile, risking audience tune out or worse, annoyance with the brand. Understanding how the size of the screen and the context in which the device is being used impacts how the brain receives that content is critical – especially for political content in such an important election cycle.

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