In a press release to try and garner interest in ads that take up a third of a Web page, AOL and Interpublic Group's IPG Media Lab gushed, "The AOL/IPG study used groundbreaking analytical tools including eye-tracking to measure the visual interaction with the advertising, facial expression analysis to record micro-expressions as a determinate of engagement, and bio-metric bracelets to collect data on skin temperature and conductance, measuring the levels of user excitement when presented with creative messaging."
From this "science" the findings say that a big-assed ad "lowers negative emotions by almost 40 percent, with less frustration, and fewer frowns" and claims that the IAB Portrait unit attracts attention 35 percent faster than competing units and garners 81 percent more attention. The release has a laundry list of other profound impacts on audiences, like "more likely to visit a brand's site" and willing to trade firstborn for "friend of brand" status.
I assume that this was money well spent, since it seems an astounding glimpse into the obvious that big-assed ads get user attention faster and longer than the usual banners and skyscrapers that clutter up most Web pages -- especially if they are big-assed as well. And if the rest of the claims in the release are to believed, this will "revolutionize" online advertising by commanding higher CPMs and dragging consumers by the cajones to the nearest retailer where they are squeezed tighter and tighter until that credit card is swiped.
If you read Carl Bialik's exceptionally entertaining "The Numbers Guy" column in the Wall Street Journal, you know by now that nearly all research sponsored by parties with a stake in the outcome is flawed and tends to overstate the benefits of whatever is in question. AOL/IPG best hope that Carl didn't get their release.
Is it so interesting that wannabes go to the extent of "combin(ing) facial coding, bio-metric feedback, then us[ing] eye tracking to sync that data with the exact point on a screen where the eye was fixated" to try and prove their ads work? Meanwhile, a brand slaps an ad on Sunday Night Football (no facial coding, bio-metric feedback, or eye tracking), and products fly off the shelf for the next three days and site traffic goes through the roof.
Nearly every online advertising play claims in some way, shape or form to have technology that gets users to engage with ads better than the next guy. Some of it must be working, since online ad spending will undoubtedly reach a record this year and is projected to grow in the future (whew, thank you, Google). But it seems a little silly to me to produce studies that boast big percentage gains when you are usually measuring against a low base to begin with. And even sillier still to introduce "fewer frowns" as a valid metric of success.
Somewhere in all of this, the creative execution comes into play as a massive X factor -- not to mention major secondary considerations like, what happened to their galvanic skin response when they saw the big-assed ad the second time?
But who am I to rain on AOL's parade? They tend to create their own rainstorms without much outside help.