Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Emsense: Better Communications Through Brain Wave Measurement

If you are as intrigued yet skeptical of focus groups as I am, you may find the offering of Emsense quite compelling as an alternative research tool. Ditto if you wonder about methodology problems associated with quantitative research.

Emsense offers a way to gauge response to commercials, video games, and political content. Using a “two node” headset, the user views content and their bodily reactions are recorded in real time. This is EEG (electronencephalography) combined with biometrics. Buck Rogers stuff, but thanks to EmSense very executable with a relatively fast turnaround.

The “two node” bit is important because it makes their technology easy to deploy and portable. In the past, EEG equipment took an hour or more to “install” on someone because of the need for so many nodes to track various bodily responses.

This photo swiped from CNET gives you a little more perspective on the device itself, and how it tracks bodily responses in real time.

Oh, and it's not just brain waves - the Emsense headset also measures pupil dilation, heart rate, breathing rate, perspiration, and more.

This kind of research may seem a bit beyond the pale for ads -- where ARS and other ludicrous yet oddly predictive measures hold so much sway. But getting genuine response info -- willingly provided yet involuntary response info, oddly enough ;-) -- through a research technique that is also affordable may prove to help marketers make significant advances in message and creative effectiveness.

Years ago, I used a tool called Ameritest that used consumer dials to let people demonstrate the extent to which they disliked an ad second by second. The Ameritest I know is long gone, but the idea of moment by moment tracking has at least as much appeal now as then. With this advancement, there's no guesswork -- you get a real read on the involuntary bodily activiites that demonstrate genuine engagement, empathy, and excitements.

This article in AdWeek outlines how Coke has already used the tool to help decide which ads to show during the 08 SuperBowl. Here's an excerpt:

Coke became a client of EmSense late last year to help it decide which two TV ads to place in the Super Bowl. (It was the first time the company used brainwave and biometric data to help select and edit its Super Bowl ads.) In the weeks leading up to the game, the client produced about a dozen new ads for possible placement. The Coke marketing team was counting on EmSense to help it make the right choices.


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 -- "It's Mine," in which parade balloons vie for a bottle of Coke, and the "Jinx" ad with James Carville and former Senator Bill Frist. For example, she says, the music in "It's Mine" was adjusted in the days leading up to the game to build to more of a crescendo than in the original version of the spot.

Don't think this stuff is just for selling colas, though. My suspicion is that these fellas are pretty busy in this election year helping pols make ads, speeches, and sound bites that will help their words and actions resonate with consumers. We know, based upon this WSJ article, that the Romney team was using them extensively.

That same article, however, notes there are some skeptics on the predictive ability of this type of research:

Some prominent scientists say neuromarketing firms may be promising more than they can deliver. Liz Phelps, the director of a neuroscience laboratory at New York University who has reviewed recent studies, is critical of the idea that images of brain activity can predict how people will behave -- especially when it comes to politics. Last month, the journal "Nature" criticized a study conducted by a neuromarketing firm this year that had used brain scans to measure people's responses to the 2008 presidential candidates. "Does anyone need a $3 million scanner to conclude that Hillary needs to work on her support from swing voters?" it said.

I don't believe those comments actually represent an indictment of the tool, just exercising some caution about the results. Having a methodology that essentially prevents a person from misrepresenting their feelings is a nice step forward. Emsense seems a great thing for brands to explore as a means of testing their communications. Find out more here.

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to write.

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