Measuring emotional engagement through biometrics

Biometric measurement can be a valuable tool in helping us understand how advertising works, writes Keith Glasspoole, deputy managing director, Ipsos ASI.

Biometric measurement: can help demonstrate high emotional engagement in ads
Biometric measurement: can help demonstrate high emotional engagement in ads

When it comes to understanding how advertising works, we know that what people feel about an ad matters at least as much as what they think about it.

Indeed, what an individual feels matters more than they can express, or even be aware of. In that context, how much use can it be to ask people questions about ads?

In fact, as well as being central to understanding whether advertising works, asking questions - assuming they are the right kind of questions, interpreted in the right kind of way - does give us useful insight into how it works.

However, it is now possible to supplement this learning with biometrics, by measuring the feelings that lie below the level of consciousness.

We do this by assessing the physical responses - such as changes in heart rate and breathing - that are triggered by activity in the emotional centres of the brain.

The key output from biometric measurement is the biometric trace. We can use this to assess, firstly, whether a minimum level of emotional engagement has been attained by an ad. Below this threshold, the ad does not engage - in effect, it’s being ignored.

Above it, we can assess whether, when, and for how long, the ad attains a high intensity of engagement.

Does the ad attain a high peak in engagement - a strong emotional pay-off, indicative of an ad’s ability to hold attention? Does it have a sustained build-up to that peak, indicative of an ad’s ability to generate personal resonance, and encourage sharing?

To help build on our existing learnings on biometrics we regularly test ads. This month, we assessed work for:

  • Oxo - the new squeezable variant, as advertised by the latest variation on the Oxo family, with fatherly advice being dispensed via an internet link.
  • O2 Priority Moments - all made out of ticky-tack, and all looking just the same?

Taking Oxo first, we see that engagement builds well early in the ad, through the introduction of the father-son set-up.

It declines as the father watches his son cook, and advises on the choice of wine. At this point, we are at risk of losing the audience - but engagement is re-established at the point at which the brand, in its new squeezy form, is introduced. It is then sustained through the arrival of the son’s attractive dinner guest, and peaks with the packshots and tagline.

So, not only does the Oxo ad have both a strong build-up and high peak of engagement, but the increased engagement both starts and finishes with the brand. So, new Oxo is squeezing the emotions of its audience in a way which seems likely to have the desired effect on the brand.

O2 also reaches a high level of emotional engagement - it attains this quickly, and sustains it throughout the ad - a pattern which suggests that an important role being played by the distinctive music.

Engagement also receives boosts on the repeated appearances of the Priority Moments logo, and peaks towards the end of the ad on the reference to how shopping is changing - an expression of the brand benefit.

So, as with Oxo, we have emotional engagement which is high, sustained and apparently linked to the brand. 

Biometrics has demonstrated beyond doubt that both of these ads generate high emotional engagement and have, therefore, generated fertile ground for positive brand impact to ensue.

Having observed where the peaks in engagement occur, we can be more confident still they will work well for their brands.

To be sure that they do so, we would need to combine biometrics with more 'conventional' research, but in the meantime we will watch their apparent market impact with heightened engagement.

Keith Glasspoole, deputy managing director, Ipsos ASI