I spent a fascinating evening in the company of Dr. Sandra Murphy, Director of Neuroscience at Nielsen, who shared some great insights into how the brain works. Having graduated in psychology and completed a doctorate exploring attention spans before moving to apply her expertise in the commercial space, Sandra is better placed than most to shine light on the relationships between brands and our brains.
Sandra immediately showcased her knowledge in practice by opening the talk to images of ABBA, IKEA and what seemed to be pickled herring. Seeing a puzzled look creep over our faces she explained “We all know attention spans are short-lived and as you probably came here to listen to my talk, rather than trying to guess my accent, I’ll reveal that I’m from the land of flat-pack furniture, also known as Sweden”. Busted! But that definitely helped us all to better focus on the matter at hand.
What followed was an hour-long talk showing us the latest ways in which Nielsen is able to measure people’s engagement when exposed to brands and their creative. Sandra explained that the strength in neuroscientific testing really lies in providing a more complete picture than using traditional survey methods alone.
And this makes sense to me, because as David Ogilvy so rightly pointed out:
“The trouble with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”
Essentially, technologies like eye-tracking, EEG, biometrics and facial coding help us account for some of those contradictions we display between what people say and what they experience and how they behave.
A great case in point was Puppy Monkey Baby, an advert that was largely responsible for a 34% spike in sales for Mountain Dew Kickstart. When surveyed on the creative, consumers said they found the advert disturbing and a turn-off. But neuroscientific testing showed strong engagement, recognition and a detectable positive ‘aha moment’ when the product was revealed. Had the brands listened simply to what consumers said, this could have ended up being the greatest ad that never was!
Which really brings me to what I find most challenging about this whole topic.
I find focus groups incredibly valuable in the information-gathering stages of a project, but I seriously question the overreliance big business places on using them to validate a creative idea and its execution. At the end of the day, we can monitor that a person is having a reaction, or is focusing, but the interpretation still relies on assumptions, and as such is unclear.
It’s our job as brand owners, strategists and creatives to understand our audiences and build a compelling piece of communications that resonates and delivers value for customers and the business.
We shouldn’t need to rely on these technologies to make us feel safe, because the truth is that great creative lies in taking risks. In showing people something new and sometimes in pushing people past their comfort zone.
It’s our job to develop marketing strategies and creative in a way that engages our audience and takes them on the journey with us.
So, let’s use market research to review, refine and plan our next move, rather than to tweak creative within an inch of its life.
Long live brave creativity.