Mind Over Matter

NEW YORK Can neuroscience and biometric research really help advertisers craft better ads? While marketers have debated that question for years, the costly and cumbersome nature of the research (e.g., MRI machines, electrodes attached to scalps) means they’ve relied instead on second-hand information such as surveys to help decide what does and doesn’t work.

Over the last year, however, several high-tech firms, including EmSense, NeuroFocus, and OTX Research and Innerscope, have introduced portable, less intrusive and more affordable measurement devices to track and measure both brain waves and biologic data. Not surprisingly, a growing number of marketers and agencies are taking note, experimenting with the new devices in hopes that the resulting metrics will provide insights on ads appearing on any and all platforms.

EmSense, a privately held San Francisco company that recently hired ad industry veteran Tim Arnold as evp, business development, counts Yahoo co-founder Tim Koogle and Patrick Meyer, CEO of brand marketing consultancy Now Inc., among its board members and investors.

“This is the kind of innovation we scout for,” said Meyer, a former senior manager at Coca-Cola and Gillette, who helped bring Virgin Mobile USA, Nintendo, Coke and Miller Brewing on board as clients.

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.

The EmSense device, shaped like a thin, plastic headband, reads brain waves and monitors the breathing, heart rate, blinking and skin temperatures of consumers who preview ads to measure their emotional and cognitive responses.

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.

“It provides you with more natural and unedited responses than you get when you force people through the cognitive loop of having to annunciate how they feel,” Bayne said. “It’s a great new tool.”

According to Bayne and others, such techniques help marketers more accurately decipher consumers’ feelings because they measure physical and emotional responses as they occur, as opposed to having people remember or interpret their feelings after the fact when doing things like surveys and focus groups.

The EmSense gizmo, developed by a group of MIT grads, combines EEG technology used to measure brain-wave activity and biometric measurements with proprietary algorithms. It produces data that spell out how a consumer is reacting both emotionally and cognitively to marketing messages, and can be used to measure such responses across a variety of ad platforms.

The algorithms calculate average results over hundreds of consumer test subjects. Second-by-second results are offered for dozens of different metrics. But three measures stand out, said Elissa Moses, chief analytics officer at EmSense and a former strategic planner at Grey Worldwide, Royal Philips Electronics and Gillette, where she worked with Meyer: how quickly consumers pay attention to an ad (speed of engagement); how their emotions track positively and negatively throughout the course of the ad; and how they respond to specific branding.