Monday, March 31, 2008

Brain Wave Focus Grouping

It's all we needed.
Thanks to Mr. Ex-Enchilada for sending me this report in the NYT, about how some research companies are now testing consumers' brain waves, heart rates and eye responses when they watch commercials.
It never ends.
Commercials who won Cannes Lions (prized for creativity) were compared with commercials who won Effies (prized for effectiveness):
Winners of Effies “tend to be a little less emotional and use rational claims a bit more” than winners at Cannes, Ms. Moses said, and ads that won Lions tended to be much better liked than their Effie counterparts. But surprisingly, “there are very important similarities” between the two types of winners, she added, which can help guide future campaigns. Fifteen of the 19 Cannes and Effie winners engaged consumers faster than average spots, Ms. Moses said. “Typically, a spot engages with viewers in 5 to 7 seconds. The Cannes and Effie ads engaged, whether emotionally or cognitively, in 1.5 seconds.”Whichever award the commercials won, they had an equal effect on purchase consideration and on brand favorability, Ms. Moses said.
I don't think this is surprising at all. This is what creative people have known in their creative guts all along: that good ideas work. Some clients hate creative prizes because they think those ads don't sell. Great ads are those that are creative, artistic if you wish, and they also sell.
They are the ads that when you tell someone you saw a great ad, you remember the brand it was for.
And as much as I am loath to compare commercials with movies, great ads would be like those movies that do very well at the box office and also have artistic merit.

But I'm tired of this pushing and pulling between the so called science of market research (which if you must know, I pretty much loathe), with the ineffable, mysterious power that comes from a great, engaging idea. The effect of a great story, a surprising twist, a good joke, (and yes, a smart strategy) is very hard to explain, describe, much less quantify. I've no doubt that there are some smart consumer research outfits out there, but I have witnessed research studies that are nothing but modern quackery designed exclusively to have marketers part with a lot of money. I once sat through an excruciating round of creative testing for beer commercials in several major cities. The study asked the target (blue collar workers who guzzle beer) to describe metaphors for the taste of beer and do poetic free associations with the color of beer. Needless to say, we were tearing our hair out (as were the subjects), and this little expedition into absurdity must have cost the client a very pretty penny.
The eye opening responses of the poor subjects: beer tastes like beer and it is the color of beer. Now leave me alone.
Marketers keep trying, because they need to justify the money they spend and the decisions they make.
Understandable, but imagine the newly minted fear of a creative team whose ideas now hinge on how many blinks of an eye. What if my heart races and my eyes dilate, but it's because I'm hating being a guinea pig?
If there has always been something vaguely sinister about focus groups, this is really opening a new frontier of orwellian intrusion.
Marketers here are very aggressive about intrusion. They think it's the shit. I think this is becoming their undoing. The more you attack people with ads, or with things that are ads but pretend not to be*, the more they tune them out.
But do a fun commercial that makes someone chuckle and feel good about your brand, and you have won the battle.

*more on this on the next post.

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