Research Digest

Go Left or Right? An Analysis of Connected TV Ad Creative on Performance Outcomes


  • A study of 170 ads on Amazon’s FreeVee revealed that ads with more left-brain than right-brain elements were twice as likely to drive action.
  • The left brain is associated with logic and analytical thinking, while the right brain is linked with creativity and intuition. However, while one side may be dominant over another, they are not mutually exclusive. 
  • Right-brain features still matter, though. The same research study found that right-brain ads had a 1.6x higher likelihood of recall.
  • Orlando Wood’s System1 research revealed, however, that right-brain ads prevailed across performance outcomes and qualitative measures (such as trustworthiness).

Ever wondered why certain ads make you feel some type of way? The types of creative elements used in ad creative have a major impact on performance — and the two sides of the brain. “[They] pay different types of attention to the world around us,” explains Orlando Wood, Chief Innovation Officer at research agency System1. “The left brain is more associated with semantic memory — that’s memories for facts and figures, [while the right brain] is more deeply associated with episodic memory — that’s memories of experiences people are living.” 

While the left brain drives action, it’s the right-brain elements that improve recall and also drive action. In order to use any of this data to your advantage, you need to be able to control the context in which your ads appear in the first place, which is why programmatic TV is so powerful.

Connected TV on the (Left and Right) Brain

Amazon recently conducted an analysis of 170 ads on their FAST service, FreeVee, to evaluate the impact of what they describe as “left-brain” (i.e. verbal, analytical, organized) vs. “right-brain” (i.e. visual, intuitive, imaginative) components. 

“We know already that something like a strong call to action might elicit a direct response to an ad, but if we start thinking about advertising in terms of these subtler left-brain and right-brain features, that potentially puts many more creative levers at our disposal that [advertisers] can utilize, depending on [their] objective,” said John O’Gorman, Global Client Measurement Partner at Amazon Ads. The analysis revealed that ads with more left-brain than right-brain features generated 2x higher likelihood to drive action, while ads that had more right-brained elements saw a 1.6x higher recall rate. 

This reinforces other advertising studies on the subject, such as Wood’s System1 research study, which split creative elements into these two spheres, per the chart below. 

Wood's Left-Brain Right-Brain Advertising Characteristics

Together with The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, Wood analyzed 137 campaigns from their database to see how these features  impacted performance.

Right-Brain Rules: Buzzworthy and Trustworthy

Overall, right-brained ads were seen as more trustworthy and buzzworthy, but unlike Amazon’s FreeVee study, Wood’s sample size found that right-brained ads also had an impact on the bottom line. 

In the chart below, the top 20% of campaigns in terms of right-brain features drove on average 2x higher returns. Meanwhile:

  • The middle 20-80% of campaigns drove 1.4x higher returns
  • The bottom 20% of campaigns drove 1.2x higher returns

“We found that it was the right brain campaigns that were much more likely to drive these broad and lasting effects,”  said Wood. “How it draws people in is much more likely to drive trust and fame effects, to raise sales, and much more likely to establish brand trust.” This differential between System1 and Amazon’s findings likely boils down to the type of programming, and the context in which the ad is shown. 

The data set for System1’s analysis included TV ads across a variety of verticals and industries, while Amazon’s was specific to consumer brands on Connected TV. Advertisers should take this difference into consideration when developing their CTV ad, and “pick” their creative elements wisely while staying true to their brand identity. 

How Does This Apply to an Upfronts or Programmatic Approach?

These findings can be applied to either an upfronts or a programmatic approach. Still, as much as left- and right-brained elements can influence performance, so too can the context of your CTV ad. A separate analysis by Integral Ad Science found that ads that matched the context of the content being viewed on CTV had a 39% higher brand impact. (A bright and cheerful ad popping up after, say, the infamous “Red Wedding” scene in “Game of Thrones” isn’t going to do anyone any favors. Similarly, an ad for an arthritis medication won’t do well when served during an episode of Bluey.) 

So yes, the program on which your ad is seen matters. An Upfronts approach allows advertisers to be more deliberate and prescriptive, but advertisers using a programmatic approach get both of these things while also benefiting from real-time data and automation. This is because programmatic TV solutions like MNTN pair your ad with the audience you’re targeting, and then serve it alongside the programs they’re watching — rather than starting with the content and hoping the audience will follow.

Pick a Side, But Don’t Forget Context Matters, Too

Aligning your ad creative with the right context is the key to generating performance marketing outcomes on Connected TV. Keeping your audience and industry in mind can help you integrate the appropriate left- or right-brained elements into your creative for maximal effect. Finally, a streamlined approach that serves your ad programmatically and audience-first, ensures that you achieve the best of both worlds while staying true to your brand.

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