Wherever the burgeoning excitement around how neuroscience can improve advertising effectiveness leads, NeuroFocus CEO A.K. Pradeep looks to remain a leading navigator. To hear him tell it, that’s all because of an in-flight conversation he had after a meeting with an Atlanta-based beverage client that he won’t name.
Back then, he was working as a management consultant. And before that auspicious plane ride, he had finished listening to the CMO of that unnamed Atlanta-based beverage giant he won’t name, express frustration -- as all CMOs do -- about an inability to better comprehend what the fortune being spent on marketing was yielding.
On Pradeep’s Atlanta-San Francisco flight, he found himself sitting next to a neuroscientist who, among other troubles, treated kids with ADD. And he realized that in a way, ADD’s opposite is advertising that keeps one’s attention – simply and intuitively, advertising that effectively plays to emotion and produces memory.
Pradeep, who holds an engineering Ph.D. from UC-Berkley, eventually called his client at the unnamed Atlanta-based beverage giant and asked for a series of commercials, the ones deemed to work the best, the worst and so-so. Using some neuroscience-based techniques, he evidently found productive enough insight that the CMO told him: “You’d be stupid if you don’t start a company.”
He founded NeuroFocus in 2005; Nielsen became an investor later; and he now has about 160 employees. Pradeep’s enthusiasm for using neuroscience to monitor brain reactions and advance marketing research is infectious. Some of his approaches and analyses come in his 2010 book “The Buying Brain.”
This week, as neuroscience takes on a heightened role at the annual Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) conference, Pradeep is showing off a new “Mynd” headset that slips on easily and begins tracking how gray matter is stimulated. It’s touted as a breakthrough, in part, because it offers full brain coverage and is “medical grade,” as well as not requiring messy gel to be placed on the head.
Among what NeuroFocus tracks is consumer reaction to movie trailers and TV promos. Its research has found that quick bursts of action can draw attention, but don’t generally prompt a high level of engagement. Instead, Pradeep said weaving a “mini-story” is far more successful, though he wasn’t exactly sure how to define that creative process.
As much as Pradeep radiates openness and transparency about his company, somewhat controversially, NeuroFocus declined to participate in a project under the aegis of the ARF aimed at establishing a process to better evaluate neuro-marketing techniques. The aim is to usher in some standards to allow advertisers to make better decisions on which methods to use to evaluate their ads, and which research firms to employ to do it.
Pradeep said the NeuroStandards Collaboration Project is a “flawed process,” while he expressed concern his company wouldn’t receive a fair hearing.
Nonetheless, the Collaboration Project has created some buzz at the ARF event with its announcement that it would try to establish some centrality in the emerging field. In an initial study, it took a commercial each from eight marketers -- that included Chase, GM and MillerCoors -- and turned to eight neuro-marketing firms to evaluate how 18-to-49 year-olds on three continents reacted.
Firms evaluating the ads – such as Innerscope, Mindlab International and NeuroCompass -- used techniques such as biometrics, facial electromyography (fEMG) and quantitative electroencephalography (EEG).
Besides the marketers, ESPN, MTV Networks, NBC and Turner Broadcasting were also involved as they search to wrap their arms around what might fit their needs and where best to invest.
A result is a movement afoot by the Collaboration Project to create a network of independent reviewers who would evaluate the sturdiness of methodologies and best practices steeped in complex science.
“None of us in the research field is really qualified to understand all of that,” said Horst Stipp, the former NBC researcher and now an executive vice president at the ARF involved in overseeing the project.
Also a leader is Richard Thorogood, an insights and business analysis executive at Colgate-Palmolive, one the eight participating marketers. He said the advantage to an expert review process is a chance to know if “there (is) true validity and how to understand the information” neuro-scientists are providing.
But he also found a sign of just how ambiguous and unsteady neuro-marketing research can be. An analysis of a Colgate Total ad had one firm concluding the characters were warm and welcoming, while another determined they were unappealing and even threatening.