Neuroscience and Marketing

printed brochure

What if, in today’s world of multi/omni/cross-channel marketing, there was a way to determine how to best spend your marketing dollars? What if researchers could take two key indicators of media effectiveness, ease of understanding and persuasiveness, and determine which marketing channel provides the best ROI? This kind of research would help answer a question that has puzzled marketers for a very long time, “Where should I spend my advertising dollars?”

Marketing in the Past

In 1874, the first-ever, copyrighted print store advertisement appeared. It was the brainchild of department store owner John Wanamaker. As a pioneer in American retailing and consumerism, Wanamaker also created the price tag. Before he invented the price tag most buying was done by haggling. Wanamaker even popularized, what we consider today to be standard business practice, the money-back guarantee.

Wanamaker was a strong proponent of advertising and a true pioneer in marketing. He would place half and full-page advertisements for his department stores in local newspapers. At first he wrote his own copy for the ads. After a while he employed advertising agencies. He was one of the first major merchandisers to do so.

“Where should I spend my advertising dollars?”

But even this advocate of marketing was stumped when it came to spending his advertising dollars. Wanamaker is famously remembered for saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.”

Neuroscience & Print

The world has changed a lot since John Wanamaker printed his first ad for his department store. Today it is possible to look “into” the human brain and see how people react when presented with various marketing materials. It’s called, “Neuromarketing.”

Researchers using Electroencephalography (EEG) and eye tracking tests can actually “watch” the brain’s reaction when presented with marketing materials such as a printed postcard versus an email on a laptop; a printed envelope versus a display ad on a smartphone; a dimensional mailer versus a non-static display ad on a laptop.

When looking for the first of the two key indicators of media effectiveness, they tested for ease of understanding, meaning the “mental effort required to understand” the material. When looking at the second key indicator, persuasiveness, the neuromarketers measured the subject’s motivation. By motivation they meant “the feeling of wanting that drives urges and decision-making.” What the neuromarketers found is very interesting.


The results showed that the printed direct mail pieces were more action-oriented than digital media.

  1. Direct mail is easier to understand and more memorable than digital media
     - It requires 21% less cognitive effort to process and elicits a much higher brand recall.
  2. Direct mail is far more persuasive than digital media
    - Its motivation response is 20% higher – even more so if it appeals to more senses beyond touch.
  3. Direct mail is visually processed quicker than digital media
    - When considered in concert with its higher motivation and lower cognitive load, this suggests it gets the message across faster.
  4. Direct mail is more likely to drive behavior
    - In this study, only direct mail triggered the desired action from the consumer.

The printed pieces also exceeded digital media’s score across all three age groups tested: 18 to 29, 30 to 49 and 50 to 64 year-olds. In fact, the 30 to 49 year-old group exhibited both the highest response to direct mail and the lowest response to digital media.

Please understand, I am not against digital media. The truth is you’re probably reading this on the blog page of my website. And you may have been directed to this blog by a Facebook post or email blast. I know digital marketing is effective. But this study shows that there is a response-driving power to printed materials. Print provides a higher ROI when it comes to ease of understanding and persuasiveness.

What We Can Do

This is why we help our customers create digital and offset printed marketing collateral, printed promotional products, printed signs and banners. We want to increase the ease of understanding and persuasiveness of your marketing materials. At Signs of the Times Consulting we understand what John Wanamaker knew years ago, there’s power in a printed advertisement.

If you’d like to know more about creating marketing materials that are both easy to understand and persuasive contact me by email at:

If you’d like to read the above mentioned study click here: