The power of touch in media

Earlier this year, PHD did some proprietary research with University College London to understand the impact of physical touch on media. 



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 mother’s 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 didn’t 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 environment.

 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 don’t 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 tablet.
    • The first group was asked to navigate the paper using a traditional mouse not touching the ads
    • 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.
  • Key brand metrics given to brands in the touch condition were also significantly higher than in the mouse condition

What does this mean for the industry?

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. 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 isn’t 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.

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



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