What was your favorite ad of last night's Super Bowl? Did you like the one where Alexa loses her voice and is replaced by uncooperative celebrities? Or did you prefer the Game of Thrones/ beer commercial mashup? Or the one where the Dude hangs out with Carrie Bradshaw?

Whichever ad topped your list, I have news for you: you're probably lying to yourself.

That's the contention of neuroscientist and co-founder of Immersion Neuroscience Paul Zak in our sister publication, Fast Company. For years Zak has been peering into our brains to discover how they really react to marketing. What he's discovered is of interest to both those curious about the weird workings of the human brain and marketers: we are really bad at gauging how commercials affect us.

You and your brain do not agree on Super Bowl ads.

The traditional way of picking the winning commercial aired during the big game is simply to ask people what they thought. Did they laugh? Cry? Get up for more nachos? Tons of reactions are tallied up and the top ad is crowned (this year Amazon's Alexa ad seems to be leading the pack by these sort of measures).

But this approach relies on people accurately reporting their emotions and, as we all know, people are often pretty out of touch with how they really feel. We second guess ourselves, repress weirdness, fall prey to group think, and tell people what we think they want to hear.

What if you could bypass people's thinking minds and directly tap into their unconscious brains to see how we are really reacting to a commercial instead? That's exactly what Zak's technology claims to do, Fast Company explains:

Immersion Neuroscience's work is based on the idea that the neural signature of emotional resonance is the brain's production of oxytocin. Using complex signal processing techniques, it can measure the oxytocin effect through changes in nerve activity that control an individual's heartbeat. The company takes measurements via a wrist-based neurosensor about the size of an Apple Watch. The data it gathers is then fed through Immersion's algorithm developed based on more than 15 years of Zak's research. The result, the company claims, is the first scalable, real-time way to measure people's response to stimuli, such as TV commercials.

That might sound like science fiction, but as a HubSpot write-up of Zak's work points out, "Netflix, Hulu, and some television networks use neurotrackers to predict how successful their shows will be -- at an 84 percent rate of accuracy -- and this methodology could soon seep into the marketing industry."

So what does this somewhat creepy-sounding tech reveal about Super Bowl ads? What we say we like and what lights up our brains is totally different. For example, the ad that produced the greatest emotional response at last year's Super Bowl according to Zak's tech (this strange girl doing a Diet Coke-induced dance) was one of the least well regarded by traditional measures.

In short, everyone said they hated it, but their brains said the opposite. And so did our beverage purchasing behavior. "The Diet Coke ad actually helped contribute to the brand's first quarterly sales gain in North America in nearly eight years," Fast Company points out.

So which ads actually moved out brains during the Super Bowl this year? Zak is finalizing his findings and has promised to share his results later on Fast Company. In the meantime, marketers can read up on what his previous results say about what type of commercials move us the most here (hint: it's all about storytelling).

Published on: Feb 4, 2019
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