Is everybody paying attention? Neuromatters offers advertisers and creatives new brain-imaging tools to test content

Producers of TV and online video advertisements, movies, trailers, and TV shows now have a new method to pre-test whether viewers will tune in or tune out, after Manhattan-based Neuromatters released Cognitive Capture, a tool based on the latest neuroscience research for measuring and predicting audience attention. And for once, this neuroscience technique is validated with impressive power to predict audience reactions at cost-effective and nimble sample sizes.

Traditionally, content producers looking to pre-test their content will ask questions to people in focus groups. “That has its uses, but it does not measure non-conscious reactions and instinctive decisions to pay attention or tune out,” says Paul DeGuzman, Senior Researcher at Neuromatters. That is why “neuromarketing” firms have been promising for almost a decade now that they can access non-conscious reactions. “But”, says DeGuzman, “they have struggled to convince the marketing community that they add sufficient insight to justify the extra time and expense.”

Neuromatters hopes to change this. By using the established technique of Electroencephalography (EEG) to take a new measure called Inter-Subject Correlation (ISC), Neuromatters believes it has found a true measure of audience attention. “If the content is engaging, we are all paying attention, so our brains react in the same way. If the content is not engaging, our minds wander independently of each other. So if the video is boring, I am thinking about tonight’s dinner, you are thinking about last night’s game, our brains are out of sync, activity peaking at different times. So by measuring the extent to which audience members’ brains are in sync, rather than the strength of the brainwaves they are producing, we think we have a good measure of audience attentiveness.”

This intuition is backed up by academic research work from the City College of New York (CCNY), showing ISC to be significantly correlated with a range of indicators of attention. This, according to DeGuzman, is how Neuromatters hopes to advance the use of brain-imaging in marketing research. “We have validated that ISC actually does correlate with measures of liking and attention. We were not aware of any other “neuro” modalities that have that kind of validation, except, in some cases, fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), which is incredibly expensive and does not provide second-by-second analysis.” Unlike fMRI and competing EEG measures, Cognitive Capture is cost-effective, says DeGuzman, “because ISC is valid at small sample sizes – less than 20 people.”

The company believes that Cognitive Capture will add value to content producers on top of what they get from focus groups. “A focus group can tell you whether they like something once you have made them pay attention to it,” says Martin Smith, Neuromatters’ Business Development lead. “What we can do is tell you whether people are paying attention. In the real world of information overload, people have to be paying attention to your ad in order to both like and remember it.”

A further feature of Neuromatters’ technology – which is seamlessly integrated with established quantitative and qualitative research techniques such as eye-tracking and heart-rate monitoring - is the ability to analyze peaks and troughs of attention within one ad. “An OK ad generates likes,” says Smith. “But a great ad drives sales and/or moves the dial on brand perception. For this, you need people to be paying attention at the branded moments. We can analyze how engaged people are at every single second. It’s no use if the cute puppy gets everyone engaged and then they have all tuned out by the time your logo appears. Or maybe if people are not paying attention to the last 30 seconds, you can cut the length and save money on the media spot. We can measure that, using what research shows is a very well validated measure of audience attention.”

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