Contact: A Study That's Not Merely Academic

When it comes to understanding human behavior, the academic and marketing communities have a common interest: to figure out why people make the choices they make. But their goals often diverge: One wants to better humanity, the other to improve marketing ROI. Yet working together has increased success on both sides, as is the case with a recent ERATO (Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology) project.

Among other things, the ongoing program, sponsored by the Japan Science and Technology Agency, is studying the "cascade effect" by showing people two images at the same time for five seconds, asking which image they like better, and comparing their verbal and visual responses. The visual data shows that respondents look back and forth, then start to spend more time on the preferred image.

"This has great potential for the marketing community," says Karsten Weide, president and CEO of Somerville, Mass.-based MediaAnalyzer Software & Research, Inc. "We could show people alternative designs for anything -- ads, products...We could, for instance, measure the percentage of people who saw a logo and determine whether the logo was in the best location on the page."

In April, ERATO joined with academics from around the world to learn consumers' preferences by studying their eye movement as they viewed two objects simultaneously. But only groups of fewer than 20 could be tested at a time, making it difficult to create a valuable sample.

"There was a huge hardware setup, including helmets and wires, and everything needed to be calibrated to the individual person," Weide explains. "It was slow [and] cumbersome and didn't scale."

Then they discovered MediaAnalyzer's Web-based Attention Tracking system, and invited the firm to join the re-search team. "For the first time in history, researchers are able to do large-scale visual tests," Weide says. "It's cheap, it's fast, and it scales really well." Being online also allows worldwide simultaneous testing, as well as demographic splits. The project will be completed March 2006.

Lynn Russo is a regular contributor to MEDIA magazine. This story is re-published from the November issue.

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