Brain scans reveal anxiety towards Super Bowl ads

by Paul Jay, CBC News Online

After the opening kick-off was returned for a touchdown, the Super Bowl didn't have much drama for viewers. Mostly it was a matter of waiting patiently until Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman lost his composure and fumbled, stumbled and threw away the game. And according to scientists at UCLA, the commercials weren't much better. At least according to brain scans of 10 subjects.

The researchers scanned the brain activity of five men and five women who viewed the ads through goggles as they lay inside what Reuters described as "a doughnut-shaped machine" called a functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, machine.

They found the subjects responded to many of the ads with either boredom or anxiety. The activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with anxiety and fear, was particularly active during ads that focused on employment and work:

Among the top anxiety-producing ads, he said, was one for General Motors aimed at drawing attention to the automaker's 100,000 mile warranty. The ad features a robot working on the line at an assembly plant until he drops a screw, forcing the line to shut down. Angry workers kick the robot off the line, rendering the robot jobless. "It's got everyone at GM obsessed with quality," the ad concluded.

Also attracting bad vibes was an ad for Nationwide Insurance featuring Britney Spears' estranged husband, Kevin Federline working in a fast-food eatery.

But at least these ads got noticed. An ad from Honda was so ineffective that participants were reportedly "less engaged than when they were looking at a blank screen." Sounds like Grossman in the huddle.