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Screenesthesia: The Silent Killer of Brands

The mismatch of content and screens is a much bigger problem than you think.

Editor’s Intro: Kevin Keane makes a strong argument that context matters when considering content to use in different media environments. Ads may perform well in one environment, and poorly in another. This phenomenon needs to be explicitly taken into account when creating, testing and deciding which ads to run where and when.

“This ad tested well. Why isn’t it working on Facebook?”
“We A/B tested this on Youtube, and it worked well, but it’s tanking on TV. Why?”
“Why are only half of our Youtube video ads working?”

If you’ve ever asked yourself any of these questions, you may suffer from ‘screenesthesia’.

Screenesthesia is a term we coined to describe a pervasive condition in marketing, wherein content creators fail to distinguish between screens and contexts when creating and distributing content. Behaviours include placing video built for TV on mobile platforms, creating content not fit for specific screen-based placements (Newsfeed, pre-roll), and the like.

While screenesthesia may sound benign, it wreaks considerable damage:

  1. Brands lose faith in video effectiveness, in video media suppliers, and in their agency partners.
  2. Media agencies blame creative, creative agencies blame media, agencies blame media supplier for poor performance.
  3. Agencies attack standard research methodologies

Furthermore, screenesthesia is stunting brand development.

Consider this case: a leading coffee purveyor created a series of video spots communicating its coffee credibility. The spots tested well in traditional copy testing, so were run across TV, as well as Youtube and Facebook.

Mid-campaign, the media agency noticed the spots underperforming on Youtube and Facebook, and requested a Brainsights diagnosis.

Brainsights screened each of the spots across TV, mobile and laptop, looked at the resulting unconscious response data, and found the following:

  • Information-rich moments detailing new espresso systems or describing the roasting process performed well on Laptop, but not on TV and Mobile.
  • Sweeping vistas showing bean-sourcing locations performed well on TV, and to a lesser extent on Laptop, but not on Mobile.
  • Focused shots of customers enjoying their coffee rituals performed well on Mobile, but not on TV.

The trouble was, each spot included a mix of some or all of these key features and scenes. This is understandable – brands embrace message consistency to drive effectiveness. But interpreting this too strictly risks screenesthesia, which anyway fails to deliver on the desired consistency and effectiveness. What results instead is inconsistent – and largely poor – ad performance.

People process content in different ways depending on environment and context. There are physical environments (home, office, on-the-go), screen environments (TV, Mobile, etc), and platform and content-related environments (Youtube, Live Sports, etc), and each has a profound effect on how we process content consumed within them.

Screenesthesia ignores this – the same piece of video content is distributed across all contexts – leading to underperforming ads and diminished brand communications.

So, how can brands inoculate against screenesthesia?

Three actions:

  1. Understand this isn’t a media or creative problem; it’s a media and creative problem. Media and creative must be crafted in unison. It’s futile for an asset to be created without the context in mind, or context to be selected without an asset fit for that context. Brands must encourage this media-creative integrative thinking.
  2. Acknowledge that old rules of thumb aren’t fit for purpose. Our industry’s rules of thumb for storytelling were built primarily in the era of TV supremacy and have mostly not adapted to the emergence of mobile and the proliferation of video platforms.  Consumers are re-wiring; our rules and best practices must as well.
  3. Leverage the Screen Rules. Drawn from cross-screen studies involving thousands of brain recordings, Brainsights has developed a set of best practice Screen Rules to help content creators develop more impactful content. These rules include:
    1. Television can handle substantially more visual complexity (sweeping landscapes, rapid montages, etc) than other screens.
    2. Laptop/Desktop excels at communicating information-based messaging.
    3. Mobile demands focused attention. Viewers should know where to commit their attention at any given time.

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Kevin Keane

Kevin Keane

Co Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Brainsights