Research industry is getting emotional

Advances in research techniques are revealing how people really feel about ads.

Research industry is getting emotional

Since becoming the IPA president, Nicola Mendelsohn has called for a bridging of the gap between the marketing research and communications industries (see page 28).

Research often seems to be an Aunt Sally for the ad industry - stories abound of the great campaign that would have died if all concerned hadn't ignored the research. Yet spending on ad research continues to grow, and we know our approaches are predictive of in-market success. Our clients are major advertisers, who are not inclined to throw millions away - if they didn't see value in pre-testing, they wouldn't still be investing in it.

While some advertisers are happy to go on "gut feel", many want the reassurance that research gives them - and, in the best cases, will use such research not just to tick boxes or get sign-off for the production budget, but to build a body of learning that helps build more effective advertising.

However, just as not all advertising is effective, nor is all research. When research fails, it can be because the wrong questions were being asked, or in the wrong way. As with so much in life, what you get out of research depends on what you put into it. Some lessons:

1. If "risky" creative is being tested, make sure the advertiser and the research agency are on board with what success is going to look like. For example, do you want to be understood? Or do you want to generate intrigue (one side-effect of which may be an element of confusion)? Your answer means a very different interpretation of the same survey or focus group results.

2. Use approaches that build in an assessment of the subconscious, emotional response, which judge success on observing real change for the brand, and do not rely solely on cognitive, conscious response and database comparisons.

Mendelsohn has challenged the research industry to pioneer new techniques, to better reflect a fast-changing media landscape. At Ipsos Mori, we have been developing and applying measurements of emotional engagement. We use these techniques to understand how and why two pieces of creative with apparently similar objectives achieve very different success overall (by success, I mean making a positive difference for the brand).

For example, we assessed two ads - one for Special K, the other for WeightWatchers. We observed stronger brand impact for Special K. However, the two ads were very similar on "cognitive" measures, such as specific message take-out.

We needed "emotional" measurement to tease out the differences. One such measure is CEP (cognitive emotive power), developed in conjunction with Dr Robert Heath. This offsets an ad's cognitive power (broadly, its capacity to make us think something) with its emotive power (its capacity to make us feel something).

The two ads are equally low cognitively, but the Special K ad was much stronger emotively. We observed the same pattern when we used CEP to assess Cadbury's "gorilla", and its less successful follow-up "trucks". "Gorilla" has strong emotive power, "trucks" does not.

While approaches such as CEP are new, and useful, they are still based on people responding to questions on a survey, which remains a cognitive process. How can we get beyond what we might call "accessible emotions" - what you say you feel - and get to what you really feel?

Advances in neuroscience take us towards this kind of unconscious processing. At a recent client seminar, we showcased biometric techniques, developed by our partners at Innerscope Research, and being piloted across Europe.

Biometric measurement involves respondents wearing a chest belt and hand sensor. Easy to put on, comfortable and unobtrusive, the equipment can easily be incorporated into a test viewing or group. It measures various physiological responses driven by the autonomic nervous system, such as heart rate, skin conductance, respiration and motion. These responses are driven from deep within the brain, over and above what EEG, another neuroscience technique, can pick up from its measurement of the brain's top layer. The key output from biometrics is a "trace" measurement - at first glance, similar to those derived from conventional survey research; but, in practice, much more sensitive.

In ad research, it lets you identify elements of an execution that generate stronger or weaker responses, and gives strong guidance for editing. Strength of response is predictive of cut-through and "viralability", and, in combination with survey results, diagnoses differences in brand impact.

Biometrics is an example of how research is looking to extend beyond conventional approaches. We know that creative is king - driving about 75 per cent of in-market success. We have no desire for advertising to be formulaic. We know that our techniques are proven to help identify and develop ads that work for the brand, and that constructive use of those techniques can work for you.

Keith Glasspoole is the deputy chief operating officer of Ipsos Mori