By Lindsay Kwaselow

Neuroscience is defined as the study of the nervous system or the study of our subconscious reactions within the brain. How can this possibly relate to improving the way we market on mobile? There’s surprisingly a lot to consider when it comes to how the human brain processes data and visual stimulation from one screen or device to the next. By studying the activities that happen within our subconscious minds when shown an ad, we can thus derive data and make justified conclusions that will ultimately enhance the way we visually market our ads to make them more impactful.

Sharethrough, an advertising software company for publishers, commissioned Nielsen to conduct a study in hopes of determining how consumers visually react to, and process mobile ads. The problem with so many survey-based conducted mobile studies is that they only tap into the consumer’s conscious responses. By leveraging neuroscience in conjunction with EEG data and eye tracking, Nielsen was able to quantify where and how the participants’ focus was directed when viewing various mobile ads. Sharethrough reported how important it is to incorporate the subconscious behaviors of consumers, as “the subconscious is the motivating force behind many of our actions, including which brands we buy from.”

Eye tracking specifically evaluates how people visually interact with text or online banner ads. Companies who leverage eye tracking can use it to evaluate the impact of their visual products. According to, “The fields of advertising, entertainment, packaging and web design have all benefited significantly from studying the visual brain behavior of the consumer.”

Key Findings:

1.      Native ads, or ads that are coherent with the other media displayed on a device or webpage (such as a feed-based design) were shown to receive twice the visual focus than standard banner ads. The study concluded, “Across native ads and banners, eye gaze appeared to be consistently more concentrated on the native, even though both formats were placed in-feed.” 100% of the top ten most successful mobile sites use a feed-based design. 

2.      Native ad headlines can be enhanced to trigger associations within the brain. Words displayed on an associative network that are similar to words included in the headline of an article resulted in a lift in message resonance and was also shown to subconsciously influence brand perception.



3.      Marketers should always include key branding assets such as logos, keywords and consistent messaging, as Nielsen found that including these assets will facilitate the formation of brand associations within the human brain, and heighten your brand’s lift and influence.

4.    Native, feed-based ads provide markers with an increased rate of capturing audience attention – with the visual focus more so on the text of the ad than on the corresponding image. This heightened focus helps advertisers to create a network of branding assets and related words in the conscious and subconscious minds of their potential customers – ultimately strengthening overall brand perceptions.

“Each adjective or noun in a headline—including the brand name—is stored in an associative network of related concepts. Activating one concept automatically triggers the others, strengthening those connections over time,” says Sharethrough. As mobile adoption evolves and consumers continue shopping and learning on their mobile devices in real time, at exponential rates - remember that native ads effectively demand the focus and attention of the brain.

Mobile users are, for lack of a better word, distracted. According to, “In the last 15 years, the human attention span dropped a third, to about eight seconds (now a second shorter than a goldfish)! In a lot of ways, this is a response to the increase in stimuli we are bombarded by on a daily basis, from email and social media to smartphone notifications and of course: ads.”

Steps must be taken to ensure your ad stays afloat in the wake of an overpopulated, overstimulated mobile storm. Last year, Nielsen found exposure to mobile ads produces a 45% lift in intent – a significant factor when it comes to winning over mobile customers and prospects and increasing the efficiency of your branding structure.

Click here to view the complete infographic featuring the results from the study.