Fill in the risky blanks of ad tests

Each year, hundreds of thousands of focus groups are organized around the world, and several billion dollars are spent globally on quantitative ad research. However, studies have shown that traditional research miss out on potential revenue.  

An ad created to work by associating intuitive feelings, emotions and physical sensations with a brand is less likely to perform well in a regular quantitative pre-test and focus group sessions. Yet, according to an article published in Admap (February 2013), it may be this type of ad that affects the consumer the most, they just don’t know it.

Our brains are lazy and tend to take shortcuts whenever possible. Gut feeling, intuition… Call it whatever you want, this is the brain’s way of telling us how to react in a certain situation without wasting energy.

Our memory takes many different forms. Long-term memories are much more complex than short-term ones and are categorized within separate memory systems. When most of us think of the word memory we think of the explicit memory – a type of long-term memory requiring conscious thought. However, the shortcuts that the brain wants to take are related to the implicit memory. The implicit memory does not require conscious thought and is sometimes referred to as subconscious memory or automatic memory. This means that by using past experience we can remember things without thinking about them.

Les Binets and Peter Field (authors to the IPA book Marketing in the era of accountability) suggest that implicit processes are likely to be behind long-term brand preferences. We know that an ad has the potential to change attitudes via both the explicit and the implicit memory. By letting people consciously reconstruct an ad we make sure we have affected the explicit memory. If we are able to make new things about a brand feel familiar we have been successful in making an impact regarding the implicit memory.

However, as seen in Admap (February 2013), recent studies have shown that conventional advertising pre-testing is poor at assessing implicit ad memory and, because of this, misses a powerful way in which ads change consumer attitude. Regular quantitative and qualitative pre-tests work by testing the explicit memory and asks people to consciously reconstruct their experience of an ad. This means that the implicit part of the memory gets overseen.

Luckily for all advertisers neuromarketing is able to shake things up a little bit. Through the use of implicit testing and EEG we are able to see how a person responds to an ad. Different areas of the brain react to the ad’s message and we are able to track electrical waves related to emotion, memory and attention. Things that wouldn’t be revealed in an interview or a focus group session are suddenly out in the open and ready to be analyzed. This is where things get interesting since the data is unfiltered by the conscious mind and neurologically pure. What we see is the true reaction from the respondent based on feelings that are extremely hard to articulate and often described as intuition.

Preventing a bad ad from being used can save considerable amounts of money. On the other hand, the decision to not use an ad based on insufficient testing could be just as costly. The question is, for how long will advertisers be willing to take these risks in spite of the fact that they’re not getting the full picture?