Where are behavioural studies taking marketing? It’s a question that has been somewhat overshadowed by the ethics and privacy debate surrounding this summer’s controversial social media ‘emotional manipulation’ experiments.
Facebook’s experiment in reducing positive and negative comments in newsfeeds provoked a furore over the privacy issues involved, but it was interesting in suggesting that text alone can significantly influence the moods and emotions of users.
US-based dating site OkCupid’s test, meanwhile – telling users they were a good match when in fact they weren’t – suggested how online dating might start by instilling belief, rather than from reality. Such ‘content-tweaking experiments’ are part of a multitude of behavioural studies aiming to understand how content, context and social connection can influence emotional state and consumer decision-making – and vice versa.
Neuro-scientific studies scanning people’s brain activity and monitoring their reactions to brand stimuli can, when combined with studies across other disciplines such as linguistics and digital data, piece together how emotions give rise to particular behaviours. Happiness, for example, often provokes a need to share, while sadness can create a need for greater connection.
One study, published last year in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, showed how exposure to “uncivil blog comments” can polarise perception of risk associated with new technologies such as nanotechnology. Ultimately, anger-inducing language left a much greater impression – and influenced the opinion of those who had been exposed to it compared to than those who hadn’t.
According to Gemma Calvert, managing director and founder of neuroscience marketing consultancy Neurosense, marketers and advertisers are watching the Facebook study with “considerable” interest.
“They’re waiting to see how generalisable the findings are, and whether something similar can be leveraged in the context of viral campaigns to raise brand awareness and/or highlight new products and services coming onto the market,” she says.
The Rise of Emotional Analytics
One of the more immediate applications of neuroscience in understanding emotional behaviour is in ‘compressing’ ads – making them more emotionally resonant and financially efficient. According to Joe Willke, president of Nielsen Neurofocus, through electroencephalography (EEG) the firm can now identify consumers’ exact moments of attention, memory and interest when viewing an ad.
Clients such as CBS are using such methods to shorten TV trailer ads from 30-second to 15-second spots. With highlights and lowlights identified, a rough edit of between 10 and 14 seconds can be created, assuming the goal is a 15-second spot. The client works with the neuro-team to ensure the storyline remains and that key messages aren’t lost before going back to the creative team for finishing. The end product is a 15-second “scientifically compressed” ad shown to be as or more effective – at about 50 per cent of the cost. “It’s helping make advertising more of a science than an art,” says Willke.
Emotional Analytics At Scale
Advances in monitoring technology will make emotional testing more widespread and scalable over the next 12 months, giving rise to an era of emotional analytics, according to Amy Kean, head of futures at Havas Media. Start-ups such as CrowdEmotion and RealEyes, which offer technologies that use facial recognition to read emotions, she says, are leading the way.
Earlier this summer, BBC Worldwide Insight announced plans to trial CrowdEmotion on a number of BBC TV shows, including Top Gear and Sherlock. The pilot study, which will involve 200 UK participants, will measure viewers’ emotional responses including happiness, surprise, anger, fear, disgust and sadness as a way of exploring their engagement with content.
Kean adds: ‘Advancements in emotional testing and technology will also mean outdoor executions that change creative based on facial responses – and different social media messaging based on whether someone is an introvert or extrovert. The technology even exists to facilitate actual mindreading based on the 16 most basic sensory reactions. The start-up MindReadr has been working with Google Glass to allow tasks to be performed based on how you think, not how you move.”
Experts such as Kean and Calvert are also predicting the rise of more collective ‘contagious’ or viral emotional experiences through ‘moodvertising’ – a concept drawing on recent understanding of how mood or emotions impact on the accuracy and effectiveness with which we encode messages and other information.
People are far more likely to recall an ad campaign that resonates with their mood and current feeling, rather than one that doesn’t, Calvert explains.
‘Mood-vertising’ could also extend into brand experience through physical spaces. At the UK's University of Lincoln, computer scientists and artists have created a mood-modulated, Twitter response-controlled ‘social media garden’ to explore how physical spaces can map human emotion.
Given the multitude of new communication platforms and ubiquity of mobile devices, such projects could have major implications for many industries, including marketing, according to Calvert. Neuroscience and psychology are ushering marketing in a direction that’s more interactive, ‘empathic’ and adaptive to shared emotional states, she says.
The applications of scientific emotional insights afforded by new technologies are also being explored beyond marketing, showing relevance for areas such as customer service and sales development.
“[These are areas] that should embrace these new modes of understanding people. [They’re areas] where positive emotional engagement is absolutely essential. We're already looking at it for a number of finance brands, for example, using neuroscience and emotional reading to change their business from the customer experience outwards,” says Kean.