The ad holding company, along with investment firm Myrian Capital, has committed close to $6 million to a start-up company that is developing techniques to measure the emotional responses of consumers to brands, products and experiences, such as advertising.
With the investments, both WPP and Myrian will assume seats on the board of Affectiva. The company said the money would be used to further develop two of its key assets, including its "Q Sensor," a wearable biometric sensing device used to track excitement, engagement, stress and anxiety. The Q Sensor quantifies emotional excitement by measuring so-called electrodermal activity (EDA), motion and temperature.
Money will also be used to advance a second research tool known as the Affdex system, which reads emotional states, such as liking and attention from facial expressions using a Webcam.
WPP said Kantar and Affectiva will form a strategic and commercial partnership that would utilize a combination of survey-based and technology-enabled observational data. "We plan to incorporate Affectiva technology into key areas of our offer, including communications research and innovation work," stated Eric Salama, CEO of Kantar.
WPP and Kantar have been exploring tools to measure emotional reactions to ads and other marketing approaches for some time. After years of experimentation, Millward Brown, a unit of Kantar, formally launched a neuroscience practice last year to test the effectiveness of ads.
To launch the unit, Millward Brown partnered with EmSense, a neuroscience testing company. Previously, Millward had offered clients traditional techniques for testing ads, such as focus groups and surveys, before collaborating with EmSense.
It wasn't clear to what extent -- if any -- the Kantar-Affectiva venture would work with the Millward Brown neuroscience unit to serve customers. WPP and Millward Brown did not respond to queries by press time.
"Marketers recognize that emotion drives brand loyalty and purchase decisions," stated Dave Berman, CEO of Affectiva. He said the company's proprietary systems address "an enormously challenging problem, understanding how people really feel in order to create products or experiences that are engaging and drive the right response."
For years, marketers have debated how useful neuroscience and biometric research can be in helping them craft better ads -- but the techniques have won more converts with recent improvements. Of late, a handful of firms including EmSense have introduced portable, less intrusive and more affordable devices to track and gauge brain wave activity and biologic data as subjects view ads.
The result of a collaborative research effort at the MIT Media Lab, Affectiva was founded in 2009 by MIT scientists Rosalind Picard, currently chief scientist at the firm, and Rana el Kaliouby, who is currently chief technology officer.