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The power of touch in media and what it means for you

The headlines

The simple act of touching an advertisement increases spontaneous recall by
Adding just a fleeting touch within a channel can increase the effectiveness
of advertising by increasing key brand metrics

Consumers already touch some channels but the value of this to the
advertising isnt being acknowledged
PHD will be working with media owners to harness the power of touch in new


When people talk about the human touch, touch is the operative word. In media
we often talk about consumer touchpoints, but we need to consider physical
touchpoints not just metaphorical ones.

Touch is a very important part of human development and social interaction.
Experiments have shown that when monkeys grow up without their mothers touch
they suffer developmental problems or even severe brain damage even though all
other aspects of their environment were optimised.

In human interactions touch is just as important. In another experiment, when a
waiter in France gently touched customers on the arm, he was 128% more likely to
get a tip than when he didnt touch them. Again in the retail environment
consumers who were lightly touched when given a brochure as they entered a shop
stayed 63% longer and were 23% more likely to purchase.

With this in mind, we wanted to better understand the impact of touch in the media

The experiment
The hypothesis: The simple act of touching an advertisement will increase recall
of an advertisement and favourability to the brand

The challenge: To set-up an experiment which isolates the effect of touch e.g.
one condition where people touch ads and one where they dont without
instructing them to do so. We created a bespoke approach with University
College London Business Psychology School to examine how touching
advertisements affects key brand metrics (awareness, recall, likeability etc.)

Methodology: Participants were asked to read a reduced edition of Metro on a

o The first group was asked to navigate the paper using a traditional mouse
not touching the ads
o The second group were asked to simply swipe between pagers with their
fingers as on any touchscreen device

Results: We found a significant increase in spontaneous advertising awareness
among other findings. In the touch condition spontaneous recall of six
advertisements was 28% higher than in the non-touch condition.
o Key brand metrics given to brands in the touch condition were also
significantly higher than in the mouse condition.

What does this mean for you?

Advertising is competing against an avalanche of data in consumers everyday
lives. Not only from other advertisers (we are exposed to 10,000 ad messages a
day) but the total amount of data competing for our attention is growing
exponentially. Ninety percent of worlds data was created in the last two years
alone, while the average individual has to process the equivalent of 34 gigabytes of
information a day.

The result of this explosion of data is that our brains are becoming increasingly adept
at filtering out information. There is a limited amount of information you can load
onto any one receptor.

We think there is a parallel with how advertising delivers diminishing returns when we
overload one medium with too much frequency. In the same way that the media
multiplier effect aids understanding without incurring diminishing returns, we can start
to think about how adding additional senses to the communication mix can
increase overall understanding.

Low level data across multiple senses works better, as this study has just proven.
Adding just one extra sense can make the difference, and this can be within the
same medium. Importantly, this can be a very light touch you dont need to be
interactive to be tactile and effective.

In this example from McCain Jackets we took the highly visual medium of bus
shelters and added the smell of a freshly baked jacket potato as well as a 3D
fibreglass potato that warmed cold hands. This generated significant cut through for
a relatively small investment.

However, most commercial communication is biased towards the visual, with audio
coming a clear second, far ahead of the other senses. This is especially true of paid
media but we can also look at the opportunity around owned spaces in retail for
example as well. Touch is especially important as few advertisers have the
opportunity to deliver on taste and smell.

Touch, however fleeting, has an inherent value alongside the usual metrics of reach,
context and environment. Some implicit touches are happening already but the
value isnt necessarily being acknowledged.

A wealth of opportunity opened by tablet and mobile means that touch can work
with every medium. Second screening on TV, click to play audio on mobile, video
on tablet, and new texture opportunities in print and OOH are just the tip of the
iceberg as tactile media comes to the fore.

New Research

PHD are proposing new research which delves deeper into touch looking at the
difference between traditional and digital media, what images people naturally like
to touch, how touch interacts with vision and importantly the interplay between
touch and time.

Stay in touch

If you would like to discuss the existing study or the new research, please contact
Chris White, Head of Insight, +44 (0) 20 7446 7111,

If you would like to discuss how we can apply new touch formats to your media mix,
please contact Simon Harwood, Head of Futures, +44 (0) 20 7446 7133