In Mexico, digital billboards advertising political candidates are equipped with cameras that capture the facial expressions of onlookers and analyze them according to complex algorithms to determine what effect the ads had on those who saw them.
In Turkey, neuromarketing firms measure everything from brain waves to heart rates to determine if a particular political speech was sufficiently engaging. The same happens in Poland, Colombia and the United States, among others.
The era of consumer neuroscience is upon us, here to provide nuanced insights into precisely how we respond to the messages that advertising inundates us with each day.
The excitement surrounding this burgeoning practice is understandable. As anyone who has ever tried to sell something, say something, or court someone knows, the vast majority of our brain activity occurs at the sub-conscious level.
Why do we behave the way we do? Why do we decide that a certain person is attractive, while another is not, or that product A is great, while nearly identical product B is rubbish?
The answers, frequently, lie in intensely complex—and largely invisible—neurological processes. Ask people to describe these all-important mental machinations, and they’re likely to just shrug their shoulders and claim ignorance.
But track their brains, eyes or hearts with the appropriate biometric technology, and you’ll begin to see surprising patterns.
There are, of course, a few remaining kinks our technologies have yet to sort out. Software detecting and analyzing facial patterns, for example, is likely to simply note that a certain ad made a certain user smile.
But if you know people intimately—which is something algorithms can never do—you know that a smile can be a deeply complex expression. Some of us smile to mask discomfort, say, while others reserve a grin only for the happiest of occasions.
Context is important here, and context is something the field of consumer neuroscience, still in its infancy, can’t always deliver.
How do we address this problem? How do we get better data? The answer may surprise you: go small.
Having recently conducted intensive research (Yume, Nielsen and Horizon) into methodologies and outcomes of neuromarketing studies, the parties assumed they would find some correlation between the size of the screen and the level of emotional response registered. Isn’t this, after all, precisely why so many people gravitated to large-screen TVs?
Wasn’t bigger once considered better? Wouldn’t audiences connect more viscerally with an image the larger and more looming it was?
The results surprised us, the opposite was true. The strongest emotional drivers, by far, were mobile devices, despite their relatively small screens.
We interact with smartphones on a very personal level: for most of us, the smart phone screen is the first thing we see each morning and the last thing we see each night before going to bed.
It’s where we store the documented memories of our vacations or pictures of our families, and where we go to read our emails or browse the news.
As we continue to deepen our knowledge of the unseen triggers that motivate each of us to make so many choices each day—which candidate to vote for, what toothpaste to choose, which person to date—we should focus our studies on the one device with which we are most intimate.
We should focus on mobile.