What your business needs to know about consumer neuroscience

Consumer neuroscience

Consumer neuroscience is a buzz word right now as a growing number of brands seek new ways to prove their advertising bucks are delivering value for money. However the idea of monitoring the brain’s reaction to ads raises fears of advertisers being able to “read consumers’ minds”, and this science-fiction tendency makes the practice susceptible to questionable claims of all kinds. So what exactly is consumer neuroscience? Neuro-Insight CEO Heather Andrew explains:

Do consumer neuroscience techniques allow advertisers to read minds?
No. Research into how the brain works has advanced fast but not to the point where we can read minds – it will probably never get there in fact.

So how does it work?
Within consumer neuroscience there are different techniques including measuring blood flow or electrical activity to indicate how different parts of the brain respond to advertising messages. My company uses a technology called SST (Steady State Topography) which measures subconscious responses to advertising by tracking the speed of electrical activity in different areas of the brain. People who take part in our studies wear headsets with sensors that pick up electrical signals in different parts of the brain as they watch an ad. Key measures we report on include how engaged a person is by an ad, (i.e. how personally relevant it is to them); what aspects of the ad are being stored into their long memory and the extent to which they are emotionally energised by an ad.

What sort of businesses use consumer neuroscience?
We work for big brands such as Aviva and United Biscuits who usually want us to assess how well their advertising is working from the brain’s point of view.  We also carry out research for media owners such as Twitter, News UK and Royal Mail who want an insight into consumers’ subconscious reactions to their products/services.
Why are businesses turning to consumer neuro-insight over and above other market research techniques?
With the UK advertising market forecast to hit £15.8bn this year businesses need to demonstrate that the vast sums spent on advertising are effective at selling their products. Consumer neuroscience adds value by providing insight into consumers’ subconscious reactions to ads in way that is more objective than many traditional methods. There’s a lot of evidence which shows that those aspects of an ad that get encoded into memory have an impact on decision making and purchasing intent for example which is valuable information for advertisers.

It’s not an either/or thing however - quite often advertisers use Neuro-Insight’s work to complement other market research techniques.

What are some of the most interesting insights consumer neuroscience has revealed into how the brain responds to ads?
Most interesting to us is how successful particular brand messages are at being encoded to memory, in order to assess the likely positive impact of an ad on sales. However, there are lots of contributing factors that have subtle but important impacts on the way that we respond to ads. For example, one interesting finding we have uncovered is a strong ‘withdrawal’ response in the brain when we see animals or robots acting in an overly human manner – imagine a hyper-realistic dog walking on its hind legs and speaking as a person – because this combination crosses a line into unnatural territory that we are often very uncomfortable with. The brain also hates apparently aggressive body language, like pointing fingers (think Lord Kitchener’s Britain Needs You WW1 recruitment ads) or characters staring directly at the camera, both of which drive strong negative responses in the brain.

Neuro-Insight is a market research company that uses unique brain-imaging technology to measure how the brain responds to communications.