Can Monitoring Facial Expression Make a Difference?

I read an interesting blog by NextMark’s Chris O’Hara on the Econsultancy Web site  that spoke glowingly about monitoring consumers' facial expressions while watching advertisements, an effort being undetaken by a company calle Affectiva.

Measuring emotional and facial responses to advertising isn’t new, but the ability to do it as well as it can be done now is an important change.

Affectiva uses Webcams to watch people as they consume video, and measure their response. This is something akin to a modern focus group but without the big  phony mirror behind which all the marketing executives sit to watch participants talk candidly about products. There’s certainly something to be learned by studying faces and hearing comments in real time.  I've had great times at focus groups. At their best it's a lot like opening up someone else's mail. 



About Affectiva, O'Hara writes, “Now, marketers could see the exact moment when they captured surprise, delight, or revulsion in a consumer.”

I still tend to be dubious about the ultimate value of what real good measuring emotional and facial response will do. O’Hara’s blog says that at a recent 4As conference, Allison Arlin-Giorgi from The Intelligence Group reported that according to research, Generation Y consumers find humor to be the best way to sell something. Unilever supposedly took this information and ordered “one more smile” in every 30-second spot. (I would so love to see that memo.)

But really. It is easy for me to understand that a smiling, laughing reaction to an advertisement might make me feel good about the advertiser, I have a harder time believing it does much more than soften me up. Even if I am in the market for product that funny Brand Y makes, I don’t think my good attitude about their commercial extends to my decision to buy the product. It does buy a consideration and in a brand-eat-brand world, that’s worth something. So, really, I'll stay neutral. A lot of pieces of information usually add up.

Still monitoring my smiles and frowns, my ups and downs (thanks to “My Fair Lady” right there)  is really spending a lot more time and effort than is necessary. Just create  a witty commercial –witty is a little elastic but you don’t need technology to define it.

At MediaPost’s Video Insider Summit over the weekend, I was speaking with one attendee over dinner and remarking how pre-roll,  as opposed to a TV commercial, has to grab—that is, really embrace—a consumer within a few seconds, or that viewer is just gone. It’s not like TV commercials are afforded all day to get going but her point is observable and fixable and does have lead to a much more practical goal—people see the ad—than  how many times they smile while it airs. Online video advertising can be entertaining but it isn’t in the entertainment business.

2 comments about "Can Monitoring Facial Expression Make a Difference?".
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  1. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, April 8, 2013 at 3:46 p.m.

    This methodology ranks right up there with the mythologies coming out of neuromancy (oops, I mean Neuroscientific marketing)... And they all share a fallacy: merely because they can observe a physical response, coming to conclusions requires a leap. And that leap generally reveals far more about the projections of the observer than about the subject's response to the ad. Here's what I wrote about projecting ad effectiveness based on red brain blobs...

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 8, 2013 at 7:40 p.m.

    Creepy Creepy Creepy Creepy ad infinitum.... ANd hopefully totally illegal.

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