Disney Preps Ad Lab

NEW YORK ABC and ESPN provided a glimpse of their parent company Disney’s new Austin, Texas-based Ad Lab to a group of about 200 advertisers and agency executives and encouraged clients to consider joining the networks in joint research projects to better understand how their ads work (or don’t) in today’s three-screen, multi-platform video environment.

The briefing, held Tuesday in New York, was led by research and sales executives at the two networks and by academician Dr. Duane Varan, the lab’s executive director, who also is director of the Interactive Television Research Institute at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia.

The Lab conducts different kinds of biometric research measuring eye movement, skin conductivity and heart rate to measure emotional reactions to content and ads. But the idea is not to rely on a single type of research, said Varan, but to “triangulate” all sorts of information that could include data from set-top boxes, Nielsen ratings, other syndicated data and even newer techniques that still need to be proved, such as facial coding, which measures facial muscle responses to stimulus. The ultimate aim, Varan said, was to discover “new laws of truth” about advertising impact.

The Ad Lab, which opened late last year after almost two years of planning has completed several studies and has a couple dozen additional projects under way, including a study of how pod positioning impacts ad effectiveness. Others in the works include how ads are perceived differently across different ABC News platforms; the impact of split screens with ads in one box and content in another; various tests for network promotions; and how simultaneous media usage (computers and TV) impacts viewer attentiveness. Tests for mobile video and text ads are also planned.

Many of the tests will be proprietary — particularly those co-funded by clients. But according to ABC sales and marketing president Mike Shaw, much of the lab’s work will also be shared with the industry. “Now that I’m guaranteeing [clients’] creative, I need to know more about how” advertising impacts viewers, said Shaw, referring to the industry’s shift to commercial ratings two years ago. “We will have regular updates” that will be made public, he said.

One recent study focused on live ads on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, ABC’s late-night talk show. According to Peter Seymour, evp, strategy and research, Disney Media Networks, the research showed that a live ad combined with several companion spots for the same product in the broadcast boost unaided recall to the brand by more than 20 percentage points.

The lab also measured a new ad format recently introduced on Good Morning America, where a 30-second spot was framed by local weather forecasts for markets around the country. Aided and unaided recall were found to be 24 percent and 29 percent higher, respectively, when the ads were framed by the local forecast than when they weren’t.

ESPN used the lab to test a remodeled video player on ESPN.com, where 30-second ads tested positively, said Artie Bulgrin, svp, research and sales development. But the network also learned what wasn’t working when it tested several different formats, including banners, fly-outs and transparencies. The first two tested well, while the transparencies — ads that overlay content — annoyed viewers.