Indifference Kills Advertising. Interview with Nielsen Chief Neuroscientist Dr. Carl Marci

Dr. Carl Marci, EVP and Chief Neuroscientist for Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience, is the former co-founder of Innerscope Research and a globally recognized leader in the new field of social and consumer neuroscience. His extensive work has been put to good use at Nielsen where neuroscience techniques are increasingly being used to ascertain viewer reception, involvement, attention and engagement. Nielsen recently partnered with Nielsen Catalina Solutions to facilitate the connection between a viewer’s non-conscious emotional responses to advertising messages and in-market sales.

Charlene Weisler: Carl, tell us about your recent study combining single source sales data with neuroscience.

Dr. Carl Marci: This was a groundbreaking study where we combined in-market sales from single source data from Nielsen Catalina Solutions, across sixty consumer package goods ads and then looked at the ability of different neuroscience measures including facial coding, biometrics and EEG (electroencephalogram) to predict those outcomes.

Charlene Weisler: What brought about this study?

Dr. Carl Marci: Leslie Wood (Chief Research Officer at Nielsen Catalina Solutions) and I worked together in Las Vegas at the CBS Television City testing facility and she said they were really excited because, with their data, they were close to a pure measure of the creative – meaning they could control for the, aim the media weight and the timing of the advertising and really isolate just the impact of the creative itself without those other variables.  We thought that was fantastic. We have a great measure on creative so what if we put the two together? David Poltrack (Chief Research Officer, CBS Corporation and President of CBS VISION) said that he would be very interested in that and provided the funding. It was a great meeting of the minds.

Charlene Weisler: What are some of the components of creative measurement?

Dr. Carl Marci:  If you think about traditional copy testing using surveys, particularly online, there are three dimensions – do you remember it, do you like it, will you buy it. If you think about the neuroscience measures, there are three non-conscious dimensions – attention, emotion and memory. The tools that we put together in this study allow us to measure passively, without asking any questions, as viewers experience the ad. We can measure each of those dimensions second by second. And then we put all of those metrics that we derive from that measurement into a statistical model and see if they relate to sales.

Charlene Weisler: Which neuroscience technique measures which non-conscious dimension?

Dr. Carl Marci: EEG is the most complex. We are using 32 sensors coming off of the brains of consumers and from those sensors we can derive each of those three measures - a measure of attentional processes, emotional motivation and then memory activation. With the biometrics we can get to another dimension of emotion which is the emotional intensity and then with facial coding we can get at a third dimension of emotion which is does someone like it (Do they smile, do they frown or do they look surprised?). If you think about emotion and all of its complexities, we are able to capture three of the most important components: How much energy is in it? Is it something I want to approach or avoid? Or is this something I like or dislike?

Charlene Weisler: Are you able to parse out those expressions where someone may have a negative expression but are highly engaged?

Dr. Carl Marci: A negative response is not a bad thing. A commercial about a headache remedy could elicit a concerned look on the face of the viewer that registered negative but in fact they are heavily engaged. What we are finding is that indifference is what kills advertising. Getting any response is better than no response. What we have found in the research is that a negative emotion did not have a negative effect on sales.

Charlene Weisler: What is the correlation to sales?

Dr. Carl Marci: We found high measures of correlation – around 10% for facial coding, around 30% for biometrics, 60% for EEG and when they are combined it goes up to 77%. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And it also gives us great explanatory abilities when we are looking at second by second ad creative.

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