February 13, 2017 (RARC-WP-17-004)

  • The OIG teamed with Temple University to examine the neurological response to sequenced ads.
  • Physical ads, shown twice, led to better memory and higher subjective value than any other tested sequence.
  • Single-media advertising sequences (physical-physical and digital-digital) had better results in most of the behavioral and fMRI results.

From email and online ads to traditional print and direct mail, companies today have more media channels than ever to reach consumers. But choosing between available channels, and developing an effective marketing campaign, still takes a lot of guesswork. Companies are in need of information on how available advertising media are processed by consumers and potential customers. For posts – which still generate significant revenue from advertising mail – it is critical to understand the relative strengths of physical and digital advertising, in order to define the role of mail in the Digital Age.

In 2015, the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) partnered with Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making to study the effectiveness of physical media compared to digital media using neuromarketing research techniques. Neuromarketing is a rigorous scientific method that explores consumers’ subconscious response — beyond stated preferences. In other words, neuromarketing methods reveal actual activity deep in the brain as opposed to stated answers to survey questions.

The OIG’s 2015 study revealed physical advertising’s strength for creating a lasting impression of an ad and digital media’s ability to quickly capture consumers’ attention. Based on these findings, the OIG decided it would be valuable to conduct a follow-up study, once again using neuromarketing techniques to understand the effect of sequenced advertising, where consumers view multiple ads for the same product. This study found that physical ads, shown twice, led to better memory and higher subjective value than any other tested sequence of ads, including a solely digital sequence and a mix of digital and physical ads. Single-media advertising sequences (physical-physical and digital-digital) had better results in most of the behavioral and fMRI results, including ad recognition and brand recognition.

Other findings from the study have practical implications for marketers and the Postal Service: faces in ads spurred higher recall rates than scenes or words, and the physical-physical sequence was particularly effective for brand-building messages. The latter finding suggests a growth opportunity for the Postal Service, because it indicates that advertising mail could be an effective tool for brand recognition campaigns.

Advertising campaigns are becoming more complex in the Digital Age, and it is critical for the Postal Service that marketers understand how different media interact and also recognize where mail retains unique value.

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Contributors

  • Amanda Stafford, John Althen, and Kelly Thresher contributed to this report.

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