Dancing Queen: A biometric experiment
A view from James Duffy

Dancing Queen: A biometric experiment

Theresa May's comic attempt at dancing at the Tory party conference mostly aroused scorn in the public - or so you might have thought. But what did it really make people feel?

There’s no avoiding it – by now everybody has been a witness to another display of Theresa May’s attempts at dancing. The PM’s lighthearted entrance to the Tory party conference was clearly another strategic ploy by advisers to humanise May.

Even though it wasn’t a subtle move, and her team were well aware that it put May in the firing line, there must have been a reason for the move – right?

In the aftermath of the event, while everyone was cherry-picking Twitter comments or columnists were having their say, here at Total Media we decided to investigate using our in-house biometric testing tools.

Biometrics allow us to understand what's going on beneath the surface and narrow reactions down to particular moments. The tools measure micro-expressions, sweat levels and eye gazing, which all add up to tell us exactly what someone's reaction is, what caused it and most importantly how intense it was.

In order to demonstrate how this works, we took some of May’s most vocal critics: London-based, liberal, media bubble working millennials (also known as members of Total Media’s staff) and made them endure the video one more time with one burning question: did it make you dislike her any less?

In short, the answer is a resounding yes. But that’s not to say we didn’t see other emotions.

First off, the expressions of contempt rose immediately as our subjects realised they were viewing footage from the Tory party conference.

When viewers became aware that those stiff David Brent-esque movements were an attempt at dancing, we noted a huge leap in joy and surprise, and a complete flatlining of contempt.

Joy then continued to be the overriding emotion expressed throughout the clip. There were, however, significant peaks in sadness, which occurred at key moments.

This most notably happened when May stepped on to the podium directly to face the camera for the first time and happened again when she stopped dancing in preparation to make her speech. This second occurrence also saw a small decline in joy, and notable spikes in contempt and sadness.

Overall, joy was the most displayed emotion, at 30% of the entire clip. There were also spikes of contempt (0.7%), sadness (0.3%) and surprise (0.2%). The vital takeaway from the experiment is that when the clip ended joy was still high, so the residual consequence of the stunt was to create joy, a standpoint from which May was then able to make her speech.

Our findings were validated by the YouGov profile tracker, which revealed a 2% increase in "really like" and a 2% increase in "like" from 2-4 October towards May.

While she may not have rhythm, we can confidently answer the media question about if it worked and if she won: yes, yes she did, at least for our media millennials. 

While many (at least in our office) were quick to scoff at the Prime Minister’s latest stunt, our experiment revealed that it was not a reflection of their real feelings. Brands are just as guilty of planning marketing activity around assumed behaviour, rather than how people actually behave, and as a result, are missing out on high quality engagement.

Using biometric testing, including eye tracking, skin response and facial recognition, we can see if someone laughs, if they’re scared and most importantly if they are actually looking at an ad at all. By combining this data we can plan media activity based on what people are actually doing rather than what they say they are.

Next time brands think that ‘knowing me, knowing you’ involves acting on stated desires and emotions, they should remember that the ‘name of the game’ is to understand what people do, not what they say. 


James Duffy is head of media futures at behavioural planning agency Total Media

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