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Advertising in the eye of the beholder

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What do consumers really think about your advert? It’s hard to know for sure. With multiple platforms in a saturated market, your ad needs something special to capture attention. Finding that spark is an imprecise science – intuitive rather than definitive. Now, that could all be about to change.

Conceptual artwork of woman's eye and forehead.

Down in the Consumer Research Lab at Curtin University, Dr Billy Sung, Professor Ian Phau, HDR student Kevin Teah and a team of researchers are recording audience reactions to advertising using biometric testing techniques.

Dubbed the new elixir of marketing, biometric testing gauges a consumer’s subconscious reactions to marketing stimuli, giving businesses incredible insight into their hearts and minds.

Biometric tests measure quantifiable human reactions such as heart rate, skin conductance, eye gaze and facial expression, and a consumer’s emotional state when they look at an advertisement or interact with a product.

Unlike traditional survey and ad-tracking techniques, biometric testing is carried out in natural situations and in real-time, so emotional reactions and comprehension can be analysed objectively, frame-by-frame.

“Biometric data provides granular insights into different psychological processes of consumers, which is not achievable using only self-reported measures such as surveys or interviews,” Sung says.

“It provides reliable measures of unconscious processes such as visual attention. Eye-tracking technology for example can precisely follow what respondents look at on a television commercial second-by-second.”

The results allow researchers to analyse the effectiveness of advertising creative and can even predict the success of a marketing campaign.

Recently, the team collaborated with RAC to test viewers watching a RAC brand television commercial, which featured animated sequences of a RAC Rescue helicopter out on a mission.

“This campaign was about stimulating the emotion of pride so we saw biometric testing as an innovative method to test whether the creative approach would be successful,” RAC General Manager Brand, Peter Williams explains.

Yellow RAC helicopter illustration against a cloudy blue sky.

RAC are using biometric testing to gauge people’s responses to their latest advertising campaign. Credit: RAC

Prior to market launch, Sung’s team conducted biometric testing on 20 participants – 10 RAC members and 10 non-members – selecting methods that could measure reactions to the commercial’s trigger points of pride, brand warmth and positive brand attitude.

“We used an array of research methods­ – survey, eye tracking technology, facial expression, heart rate and skin conductance analysis – to measure respondents’ feelings of pride, visual attention and engagement,” Sung says.

The results identified elements in the commercial that could be altered to enhance attention and emphasise brand elements, and confirmed correct predictions of consumer sentiment at precise points in the narrative.

“Consumer reactions to trigger points within the commercial, such as the RAC Rescue helicopter and the description of its life-saving mission, provided insight into the executions and visuals evoking an incidental feeling of pride.

“We also found the commercial featuring the RAC Rescue helicopter elicited significantly greater pride than a product-orientated commercial,” Sung explains.

Williams says the results provide unique consumer insight and will help improve future campaign creative.

“It was surprising to see how powerful human faces can be in advertising.

“The testing revealed that brand cues we think consumers will notice are often hidden. These learnings will be taken into the development of other RAC campaigns.”

While there is no winning formula for a 21st century advertisement, research clearly shows that advertisements with emotional relevance have a higher likelihood of success.

During the 2018 Football World Cup, market research company, GfK used biometric testing to analyse consumer reactions to 21 advertisements. The ad ­with the greatest positive response, Ladbrokes #BrianandtheBear, contained verbal and visual humour that resonated with the audience’s mood.

“The best advertising campaigns get your attention, stimulate emotion and give you something to remember. Effectiveness comes from knowing your audience, creative that resonates and using a channel mix that lives where they are,” Williams says.

There are still wrinkles in the testing process and as yet, no standards or benchmarks, but the future seems bright for biometrics. It could soon become an essential part of pre-launch campaign testing and may even incorporate data from wearable technology such as Fitbit and AppleWatch.

Sung’s team is now working with HBF, Lotterywest and Alyka to conduct biometric testing on customer touchpoints.

“This is still a relatively new field of research in marketing. More research is necessary to identify valid correlations between psychological processes not measurable by current technologies. The Consumer Research Lab is extremely active in this space,” Sung says.

“As the costs of the technology decline, we will see more and more integration of consumer biometrics in the realm of marketing. In the future, you may even see digital signage tailor advertisements based on your attention and emotional responses as you walk past.”

Biometric methods

Eye tracking device
Enables continuous and live tracking measures of consumer’s gaze and dwell time.

Biometric wristband
Measures skin conductance (sweat level) and heart rate to understand consumer engagement and interest.

Facial expression analysis
Provides accurate measure of consumer’s emotional states.

Brainwave headset
Measures brainwave activity to understand the learning and memory processes, along with determining purchase intention.

Virtual reality goggles
Creates an immersive experience, which stimulates a user’s presence within physical environment.

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