More than meets the eye when analysing eyetracking results

Vanella Jackson, CEO, Hall & Partners, explains how tracking eye movement while viewing an ad can reveal a lot about the consumer’s engagement, but the data must be analysed appropriately to be effective.

I love what brain scientists have been able to tell us about the way we all respond to brand and communications. They confirm at last what we all knew instinctively – that our response is primarily emotional and unconscious. It is this fact that has made the art of creating effective communications difficult to explain, demystify and evaluate.

Brain scientists have also helped us understand why brand symbols, visual signifiers and other sensory brand clues are so effective. They provide the useful shortcuts, which allow the wiring in our own brains (through recognisable associations to retrieve brand memories) to make familiar emotional connections.

The challenge when it comes to evaluating new advertising is to discover how well the advertising is achieving the important task of stimulating brand memories and associations – particularly when people may not be consciously aware of what is triggering the emotional response to their ad.

This has always been the fundamental flaw of direct questioning to explore advertising responses; and why eyetracking is a new tool that is helping see what content is being consumed by people as they watch an ad. This is helping us unpick and explain some of the findings we have in addition to our more traditional measures. Eyetracking helps us interpret our findings, rather than leaving it all to assumption and guesswork.

The challenge is in our interpretation of eyetracking – there is a danger in assuming that where the eye focuses is an indication of higher engagement.

Some people say that the more rapid the eye movements, the more engaging the ad. This is not necessarily so. Sometimes rapid eye movements only indicate that there is a lot going on. It may also indicate that there is some confusion about what is going happening and the eyes are simply searching for more information to make sense of what they see.

Thus, with eyetracking, as with everything, it is all in the interpretation.

Other theories suggest that positive engagement can be determined by the level at which the eyeball vibrates, yet others vehemently reject this theory, suggesting there is insufficient clinical evidence to prove this is the case.

It seems that these kinds of discussions are wrongly focussed on the methodological variances between the different eyetracking techniques; and not on what eyetracking can tell us about a specific ad or how it can help beyond traditional testing.

We have always believed different advertising works in different ways, not only executionally, but also in its strategic intent. Therefore, we, always seek to understand the different ways people are responding to the ad.

But there is no standard pattern of eye movements that indicates a more salient ad to a more persuasive or involving ad. All these objectives can be fulfilled with highly visually, fast-moving ads or a static ad with less going on. It also depends on what is being said and how.

What is more vital to understand is what impact the ad has had on how someone ’feels’ about the brand. People’s response to the brand is always much more important to understand, than their likes or dislikes or particular elements of the ad.

It is here, when focussing on understanding and brand response, the real challenges lie. We now know that what we hope to create is a change in the emotional response, as well as a commitment ’to do’ something.

Our new pre-testing tool seeks to measure shifts not only in claimed response to the brand, but also explore whether there are any shifts in the hidden, more deep-seated emotional response.

We want to know, whether people know it or not, that the ad is capable of driving a change in the emotional response to the brand. Does it add a new positive dimension to the collection of brand memories currently held and hardwired into people’s brains?

We are using a range of implicit and explicit techniques combined with eyetracking and with visual conjoint to explore this emotional territory. We are not only concerned with whether the ad will drive deeper brand engagement, but also whether the ad is driving the desired ’do’ response.

Engaging brands are not only looking for sales. They want to encourage people to take action to talk about and recommend the brand, to participate with the brand and to buy it more often. Engaging brands are trying to build the number of advocates, as advocates drive sales faster than anything.

We are interested in how involving the campaign is but also how far people can be encouraged to ’spread’ the campaign and ’advocate’ the brand.

New techniques such as eyetracking are helping reveal hidden behaviour, emotions and motives and helping us all understand a bit more about the mystery and potential of a great ad.