Just Another Ranking? Not this time. The Neuroscience of Advertising

In Super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots came away with an unprecedented win. Meanwhile, the verdict is still out on who won the $385 million question --

Which was the best ad?

It seems the answer depends on who you ask. According to the premiere social media activity ranking site, the Netflix Stranger Things ad ranked #1! And yet, according to the premier survey-based ranking site, that same ad came in #49 (out of 66). Meanwhile, if you read headlines from numerous advertising pundits, you get every opinion under the sun.

At SPARK Neuro we go straight to the source--reading the human brain and nervous system. We ran a large scale study using our neuroscience technology to measure attention and emotion.

Our research answers a different question: Was the ad truly engaging? With the most pure and granular measures, we determine the extent to which each ad ad captivates attention, enchants imagination, or stirs emotions.

Does the Mr. Clean ad clean up?

The Importance of Neurometrics

Industry standard research methods no longer cut it. Self-reported data like surveys and focus groups suffer from biases, lack granularity, and miss the subconscious nature of emotion.

The advertising industry needs a more precise, quantifiable and actionable approach that measures the quality of engagement itself.

That’s our purpose.

SPARK Neuro measures real human reactions, not just what people say.

How SPARK Neuro Works

We conducted live neurological tests during Super Bowl parties as well as in lab conditions.
What's going on in their brains?

Our testing system reads data from multiple sensors for the most accurate result:

  • Brain activity using an electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Emotional arousal using galvanic skin response (GSR)
  • Facial reactions through micro-facial expression detection
  • Eye movements using retina tracking

Next, our proprietary algorithm converts the thousands of data points per second into 2 easy-to-understand measurements: one for attention and one for emotion.

The algorithm is complicated, so that the results can be simple.

Two Simple Metrics


SPARK Neuro scores attention between 0 and 10. A 0 is totally tuned out and is a 10 means that you are so engaged almost nothing could pull you away. It’s that simple.

A beautiful attention curve from a top 5 Super Bowl ad. More analysis on this later.

If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, did it make a sound? If an ad plays on TV and no one is paying attention, did it even air? You want people to remember and be affected by your ads, which requires their attention.


SPARK Neuro scores emotion between -10 (negative emotions: fear, anger, sadness, etc.) and +10 (positive emotions: joy, love, relief etc.), with 0 being emotionally neutral.

Quite the emotional journey. More on the Bai ad analysis later.

Unlike attention, where higher scores are better, emotional scores are more complex. The goal is typically to avoid long periods in the neutral zone (close to 0) and to spend more time at the extremes, whether positive or negative. Negative emotions do not translate to disliking an ad. Quite the opposite! An ad that can make you feel fear is often telling a great story.

Emotion is deeply correlated with motivation and decision-making. People like to think we are rational beings, but whether we call it our gut, our intuition, or our instincts, emotions play a major role in every decision we make as human beings. If you want to improve brand perception or sell your product, you need to evoke strong emotions.

It's How You Use It That Counts...

Advertising is an opportunity for brands. It’s a chance to tell a story, to change minds, to gain exposure, and to spark action. At SPARK Neuro, our goal is to optimize that opportunity and make creative outputs as impactful as they can be. We look for the causes of increased engagement, effective emotional swings, unique storytelling arcs, drama, tension, and various types of humor.

We use this information to explain what works (best practices) and what doesn’t (key learnings). We tested dozens of Super Bowls ads, ranked them from top to bottom, and analyzed for best practices.

Here is a snippet.

"Bye Bye Bye" by Bai ranked in the Top 5. Find out why...

We hope you learned something. It's our mission to educate the industry about the psychology of advertising.

This is just a teaser. The full report contains ad rankings 1-30, rankings by industry (e.g. automotive, beverage, etc.), rankings by ad style (e.g. humor, drama, etc.) full analysis of the top 10 ads, best practices and key learnings gleaned from Super Bowl ad performance, and education on the psychology of advertising.

Have we sparked your interest? Reach out!


(212) 201-9292


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