Once Again, "The Eyes Have It"

According to new gadgets and studies to track eye movements, computer maps of faces to capture a momentary grin (approval) or squinting (anger), and sensors to measure perspiration or monitor brain activity, companies are mining consumers’ raw emotions for information, reports Agence France-Presse´.

Traditionally, ad firms have measured the success of their campaigns through consumer surveys, but that technique has its limits. Jessica Azoulay, vice president of the market intelligence practice at Isobar, a digital marketing agency, says “It’s not that people won’t tell you, they actually can’t tell you why they’re making the decision they’re making.”

The new techniques recognize that purchase decisions are driven by both rational and emotional factors, and reflect research showing the brain takes in information on different levels. They “enable us to capture many different types of emotions and to be able to profile the emotions that are happening very granularly on a second by second basis,” said Elissa Moses, chief executive of the neuro and behavioral science business at Ipsos.

“People won’t be able to tell you that something irritated them in scene three, or thrilled them in scene seven, but we’ll know from looking at the facial coding,” Moses said.

The technologies can help track if brands are maintaining their edge over competitors, and make ads more effective by determining what to highlight. For example, whether to emphasize the distress of allergy symptoms or the relief of treatment when pitching medications.

And the techniques are being applied to other industries, such as retail, which is experimenting on ways to attract customers in the Amazon era. “Ultimately there is a dance between the conscious and unconscious,” says the report, noting that “in order to actually buy a product, you have to make a conscious decision.”

Some of the techniques were first employed in the 1970s, but now are being more widely adopted as equipment has improved, continues the report. An eye tracking test uses technology-enhanced glasses with a camera to record what a person is seeing on a television or in a store and read how long the eye settles on a particular cue.

That can be combined with other methods, such as galvanic skin responses with sensors applied to a person’s hand to read perspiration, and electroencephalography (EEG) which reads brain activity through sensors on a person’s head. The data is used to produce a “heat map” with yellow, orange or red “hotspots” that show where the person’s eye fixated, explains the report.

Other tests, that are becoming more popular, seek to shed light on unconscious associations with products or shopping needs. Responses are tracked to the tens of milliseconds, said Eric Dolan, associate director for global strategic insights at Johnson & Johnson. The insights can help determine “whether… to dig in and reinforce those emotional spaces… or rethink the marketing to convey a different message,” he said.

For example, Tivity Health turned to many of these techniques for its “Silver Sneakers” fitness program for seniors. The study showed that the population’s most valued exercise made them feel empowered or “ready to go,” says the report. That campaign appeared to fall flat with seniors who view exercise as a means of staying independent, or who may be intimidated at the thought of immediately exercising in a group.

The finding was important as Tivity weighed potential marketing campaigns, including “Living Life Well,” which featured images of age-defying seniors, such as a grandfatherly figure balancing a toddler on his back while doing push-ups.

These ads performed better than an alternative campaign showing groups of smiling seniors together in swim class… which emphasized the social aspect of Silver Sneakers.

The results countered Tivity’s assumption that the social aspect of the program was the “key motivating driver for members,” said Elizabeth Rula, who directs research for Tivity Health. “We were a bit surprised,” concludes the report.

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