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Science of the Soul

February 25th, 2008

What’s your favorite ad?  Why do you like it? Don’t know?  There’s just something about it, you say.

For years, marketing and advertising agencies have worked to determine what truly ignites emotion and more importantly, desire, among consumers.  In fact, the marketing and advertising campaigns that prevail aren’t necessarily those with the largest budgets or most high tech graphics, but rather the ones that can uncover what truly makes us tick as human beings, and which successfully ignite emotion in the human brain, creating an unforgettable product in the minds of consumer.

So I was intrigued to learn that over the last year, several high-tech firms, including EmSense, NeuroFocus, OTX Research and Innerscope are using neuroscience and biometric research to help craft better ads.  Sure, this type of testing has been existence for years, but in the past it has meant relying on MRI machines and electrodes, and the cost and complexity that went along with these techniques made their use and effectiveness slim.

But today, these companies have introduced portable, only mildly intrusive measurement devices to track and quantify brain waves and biologic data and these devices have a much smaller price tag than they used to.

Predictably, the prospect of having this kind of scientific proof behind their ad choices is intriguing marketers around the world.

So how does it work you may ask?  Let’s ask Coca-Cola, who became a client of EmSense late last year when they needed help deciding which two TV ads to place in the Super Bowl.  Coke threw over a dozen ads at the EmSense device to help make their decision easier.  The device, in turn, monitored a variety of components of the consumers previewing the ads, including brain waves, breathing, heart rate, blinking and skin temperature.

And according to Katie Bayne, CMO of Coca-Cola North America, “the device not only helped whittle down the list of spots, but also aided in editing the two ads chosen to air.

The key to these devices is that they can decipher consumers’ emotions by measuring physical and emotional responses as they are actually happening, rather than having people recall or interpret their feelings after the fact through surveys and focus groups.

Virgin Mobile decided to join the boat, hiring EmSense right after it launched its new “You rule” ad campaign for contract-free cell phone service.  According to Joel Kades, Vice President of Virgin’s strategic planning and consumer insights, the results showed them that they needed to “build suspense and grab people at the beginning [of a spot] and keep them in to deliver the product message.”

These kinds of findings are validated in the book Neuromarketing by Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin.  The book asks readers to think about why most people only remember the beginning and ends of movies.  It explains that “the brain is constantly looking to conserve vital energy and drop excess information in the process.”  Therefore, if the brain can anchor its energy in strong beginning and ending points, it will tend to lose the information in the middle.  So the idea that an ad needs to catch a viewer’s attention right up front certainly makes a lot of sense.

So it seems that this new technical application really does hold water.  And more and more it seems that technology is entering new realms of emotional responses and responses correlated with personal choices.  In fact just this week I read that scientists at the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, are reporting success in developing a system to judge the perfect cup of espresso. Seems they use a “proton-transfer reaction mass spectrometer, which ionizes and analyzes the hot gases wafting above the coffee surface, predicting what trained human tasters will say about it.”

I think I’ll stick with my Folgers in the morning.  But one thing can’t be denied.  Technology keeps pushing the envelope of where human beings are needed and where machines can take over.

Posted Under: Advertising, Digital & Social Media, Media & Journalism
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