Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Future Evolution of Media Research

In this posting I continue looking into the future of marketing and advertising research, today focusing on helping media decisionmakers.

What will media research look like in 2015?

First, the drivers:

  • Today the strongest driver is the universal CMO/CFO mandate to move from eyeball counts to ROI
  • This shift has to take place without incurring sizeable risk to the brand and to the brand manager (and CMO, et al. – all the people who could be blamed if it does not go well)
  • The manual agency workload cannot be increased any further at current compensation
  • The agency needs to make ROI bonus compensation a large part of the business model
  • Media agencies are also the ones moving faster than creative agencies toward custom video program production.

When I started in the agency business back at the dawn of time, we had ten people in the media department per million dollars of spend; today that is half a person. Procurement of media by people who initially had no idea of any other media value except CPM has hurt both brands and media agencies who became commoditized in a price war. The best of the procurement people have now become true media experts, and they are in the process of repairing the damage. That process is just getting rolling.

What then are the needs?

  • Singlesource* needs to continue its rollout. This method is essential to moving media research into the ROI world on a firm foundation, without need for assumptions or subjective judgments.
  • Analytic systems need to become integrated so that media people have a single screen dashboard on which they can see and manipulate all the available information in ways that are intuitively obvious, as in the iPad. This solves the information overload (at least in this aspect of their life) and scarce resource problems, and makes it easier to make the massive shift from eyeballs to ROI.
  • As a warm blankie comfort zone, sex/age currency cannot be tossed out overnight. Most brands will prefer to run in parallel, at least for a while. This means optimizers will have to hold sex/age delivery constant while increasing reach/frequency against the ROI driving segment of purchasers.

Finally, the prognostications:

  • The upfront is not broken. It will still happen in 2015. It will not look much different than it does today. The sweeping changes that will overtake the upfront before 2020 will only be seen in early baby steps. My Myers column written in 1999 described the upfront in 2005 as a war of optimizers and yield maximizers – this prediction will probably become a reality in the 2015-2020 period.
  • Sex/age will have reduced importance to many major brands by 2015.
  • Measuring all the new screens in a crossmedia, singlesource way will become the place to be for bleeding edge addicts (like me).
  • Singlesource and marketing mix modeling will become integrated, easing the transition from mix to singlesource as more and more marketing causals/media are measured by singlesource.
  • Media research companies (and other research companies) will escalate partnering relationships to bring together bodies of learning. Knowledge integration will provide more insight into how to effect higher ROI by bonding the new creative with the program environments most enhancing to sales effect and most skewed to the ROI driving segment. These decisions often have to be made before a campaign is launched, before singlesource effectiveness data become available, hence the importance of all other types of research. But to prove their validity, all other research types will ultimately have to demonstrate that they predict ROI as measured by singlesource.
  • The sharp dividing line between direct marketing and brand advertising will blur. All brands will want all of their marketing stimuli to cause audience involvement to the point of the audience taking some action, whether it be interacting, bookmarking, sharing, clicking the Like button, sending to friends, mashing up in Facebook page, and hopefully in the end buying more of the brand at less discounted prices.
  • True Sponsorship of programs and videos will increase, providing brands with increased involvement, affinity and gratitude among larger and larger audiences. Some of this sponsored content will have been custom developed specifically for the brand, mostly by media agencies taking on program production. Branded entertainment will expand from inserts into programs into the programs themselves, often with fully integrated “live read” (radio term of art) cast presenter commercials.
  • Cause marketing will similarly expand as a share of marketing dollars.
  • More brands will experiment with Gratitude Reach Units (GRUs).
  • The privacy wall will become permeable by bona fide best practices (i.e. in-context notification). This will unlock the tap for addressable commercials.
  • Marketing and media investments will become more cost effective and more accountable. In fact, more scientific. Marketing, advertising and media will attract more of the best people who have in their veins either creativity or quant/computer techie skills or both, because the game will have become – even more than ever – one of the most interesting games in town. The game I always thought it was anyway.


Briefly Noted

  • David Poltrack, speaking at an Advertising Age & TRA breakfast on April 14, was asked by The New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott about how conditions might have changed the odds of getting a hit show on television. David replied that in the 60s, 50% of the population sampled the average new broadcast network TV show between the start of the new season and the May sweeps, and today, with so many program choices for the viewer, that 50% is now down to 15%.
  • In the previous posting, Ameritest CEO Chuck Young alluded to four types of memory that a TV commercial must affect, and so I asked him to elucidate. This posting continues below with more thoughts on the future evolution of creative research from myself and from Chuck.

All the best,



The Future Evolution of Creative Research, redux

In my April 19 posting I wrote about helping advertising creatives to do their best work through future research into the minds of the audience, tied to what they buy and how that changes in response to specific stimuli.

In the previous posting I commented that through all forms of research including but not limited to neuroscience, advertising research will evolve into even more science and less art; we will learn how advertising, in all of its forms, works inside the mind/brain connection.

A superlative example of that trend from today’s research is in the work of Chuck Young’s Ameritest. For example, here is what Chuck has to say about the memory agencies which mediate advertising sales effect:

Four Memories: Advertising Is Planting Seeds

The original method of pretesting was recall testing because marketers understood that for an ad to be effective it had to leave something behind in consumer memory. Unlike promotions, ads create long-term value because of the brand structures they build in our memories.

But one of the chief lessons from modern neuroscience is that the old tape-recorder model of memory long held by recall testers was overly simplistic. It is now well established that there are multiple memory systems in the mind, not just one—It is now pretty clear that for an ad campaign to build strong brand value, it must make at least four kinds of deposits in the different memory banks of the mind.

To understand the four kinds of brand memories that are important for advertisers, it is helpful to think of a simple model about how we learn to make a sale.

Bright young people coming to work for me are afraid of the very idea of selling.  Fear of rejection is one reason for this.  As a result, their preferred method of approaching a client or prospect is to send an email. They quickly learn that this, by itself, doesn’t work very well.  So, as their level of knowledge builds and their confidence grows, they reach for the phone.  They soon discover that over the phone they hear something that was missing from an email, perhaps something in the tone of voice. What is being said, they realize, is sometimes not as important as how it is said.  An emotional dimension has been added through voice and a relationship begins.  But this, too, is not always enough to close a sale.  Finally, when they are competent enough in doing their job so that I am confident they can properly represent the brand of my company, they get on a plane to make a sales call in person.  Here the final discovery is made: the real trust that comes from physical eye contact is essential to getting to the handshake, turning a prospect into a loyal customer.

Selling in person is more effective than selling at a distance—and in large part this has to do with the different kind of memories that are created with the in-person sales call.

The semantic memory system, which can be thought of as the rational, verbal part of the brain, is the place where advertisers can use email effectively. These emails communicate features and benefits, product concepts, unique selling propositions, brand positionings. Semantic memories are those that can be accessed with traditional recall testing methods.

The episodic memory system is the place where personal, autobiographical memories are stored. Where were you on 9/11?  The images that come to mind form your personal narrative of the events that you have lived through, real or imagined, and how you felt about them. Advertisers can telephone their brand stories to this memory system of the brain with radio or television or other storytelling media.  Recognition, rather than recall, is a better way for researchers to access these emotional episodic memories.

The procedural memory system is the oldest place of memory, where physical sensations and physical skills are stored. What does a headache feel like? How do you remember how to dance or drive a car? Advertisers can shake hands with this part of the brain in two general ways.

The first, by means of the operation of mirror neurons, is through the magic of physical-action-at-distance that I call “virtual consumption”.  It’s why bite-and-smile, product-in-use or other kinds of brand experience scenes in ads are so important. It’s also why we consumers get so addicted to watching sports or playing video games.

The second way that brands can reach out and touch someone is through click-throughs and other action-interactions in this new high touch age of iPhones, iPads, Kinect and other Internet-machine extensions of our bodies. We researchers have much to learn about how to measure the impact on advertising ROI of these new physical brand memories being formed.

The fourth type of memory that is important for advertisers does not pertain to the brain but rather to the brand.  It’s the brand identity tag that links the other three types of memories to your brand’s name or icon or other identifier, turning the other three types of memories into a valuable property in the brain that can be monetized.

Measuring brand linkage across the three different memory systems of the brain is a work in progress that perhaps modern neuroscience can shed some light on. (If you would like to read more of my ruminations in these areas, you can find them on the Resources Page of our website,

The implication of thinking about advertising from the standpoint of the multiple memory systems of the mind is that advertisers need to develop a clear strategic framework for designing ad campaigns that sell the head, the heart and the hand of the consumer.

Increasing Profits for U.S. Corporations is a Social Good

With all our flaws, the world is a better place for having the U.S. in it. We make our share of mistakes but our intentions are always good. We are trying to help out the world as best we can.

Not that we are alone in this. More and more nations every year are awakening to a viewpoint of enlightened self-interest that recognizes our connectedness and the fact that in order for any of us to succeed as nations, we must pretty much all succeed.

It hasn’t always been this way. The world was neatly isolated into silos as recently as a few hundred years ago. No more. All the world economies are linked like dominos.

Companies that used to be American have been bought by others outside America. The surviving American Red White and Blue companies are getting better. Reducing waste. Improving products. Improving processes. Improving marketing and sales. Their profits are going up. As they become less likely to be bought by a foreign company, the U.S. becomes stronger.

With pressure on our jobs and our homes, and everybody working harder than ever before, it sure would be great if we could find ways to pull together and uncork that good old American ingenuity to make our businesses more profitable, to benefit all of us, worker and owner alike.

It sure would be great if we could find a way.

There is a way.

Having moved from the Industrial Age into the Information Age, we now live with an emerging and ever-growing mountain of information we never had before. From which we can learn things. Some of what we learn will make our companies more efficient. Especially in marketing, where we (and the rest of the world) have been terribly inefficient. Yes, we know half of it is wasted effort. Actually, IRI studies years ago showed that 60% of marginal advertising spend and 80% of marginal promotion spend is wasted. We are talking about the better part of a trillion dollars a year being wasted. Even on the scale of a war, we are talking serious money.

What is the bug in the system? We postulate it is the emotionalization of privacy. Certain elements of the press and the government have made hay – sold papers so to speak – with an emotional appeal to make privacy so sacrosanct that balanced rational decisions (vs black-and-white, yes or no choices) are no longer an option. I guess it helped elect a few of them so I can understand from their point of view. But there is a social good to making our research/information/learning backbone more efficient.

The extra bonus to being a columnist who writes about privacy as a protector of his/her readers is that one is not just being entertaining, but is helping the reader and the world.

The irony is that a columnist can be seduced by hidden ego motives into adopting the savior role on the privacy front and wind up consequently working against the needs of the reader, and the electorate. We need two things: privacy protection and a successful U.S. economy, capable of supporting lots of well-paid workers who don’t have to kill themselves to make ends meet and own a home.

Whoever persuaded a large chunk of the American public that privacy protection and obtaining good information to make businesses more efficient were mutually exclusive? We can have our cake and eat it too. It does require data handling methods to be improved far beyond their current state of practice – to the level of the few companies certified by ISO 27001*, who prove we have the technological capability. It also requires the elimination of personally identifiable information except in actual customer relationships where buy-in has been established, and other such warranted cases.

This is not rocket science, but rather a matter of disciplined processes. It is achievable. And the prize is an accelerated economic recovery with a very long growth phase. Nothing has to be sacrificed in the process except long-winded rhetoric.

These points are made definitively in a 62-page tour de force citing chapter and verse entitled “Tragedy of the Data Commons” by Yale graduate Jane Yakowitz, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School. Among the many salient findings: there has been an intellectual effort to paint anonymization as pragmatically impossible, which it clearly is not. Anonymization is achievable through mathematics. The number of data points required to re-identify a person or a household is the science employed today on a daily basis by HIPAA consultants. If we rigorously employ the mathematical science, anonymization cannot be defeated except by the old bugaboo that affects everything and can never be legislated away: human error.

“Tragedy of the Data Commons” is available at

Best to all,


*ISO 27001 is a standard set by the nonprofit International Standards Organization, and covers every aspect of maintaining information security from the procedures one uses when non-employees enter the office to the self-locking of computers and other devices after a few minutes, from the types of firewalls one uses to the way new employees are checked out, and much more.

Note: As we had mentioned, the plan had been to post our thoughts on The Future of Media Research on 4/24, but we are still working on it so it will post on 4/29.


The Future Evolution of Marketing/Media Research

What will happen next in the advertising industry’s important research wing? Where is it all going? What will be the face of advertising/media/BI (Business Intelligence) research in 2015?

First, the drivers:

  • Decision makers want speed
  • They want answers to burning questions that specify the recommended decision with compelling rationale – so their job of taking that position and defending it will involve as little personal risk as possible;
  • They want all the variables and types of evidence reduced to utter simplicity – as in a well-designed graphic dashboard;
  • If they have a dashboard, they love to be able to play what-ifs with the recommended solution and see what happens to the graph, so that they truly do have a key role in the decision that gets made;
  • They need to be able to get their heads above all the weeds and up to where they can actually have a master vision – but the weeds are growing like hydra – the weeds being the excess of nearly-relevant information.

In other words, as compared to when I started in the business and we were looking desperately for any scrap of information, and beating the heck out of it in terms of a high bar for validation, today all too often there is much too much information. One can have an assistant compile it all so one can scan it but that’s about it. No way to actually absorb the ever-growing heap.

This new reality engenders a new way of functioning that is always high risk (as evidenced by CMOs being replaced every 23 months on average) and in which one has to operate like the Hollywood gunslingers – on gut intuition. Or as in the Hollywood story, where Columbia Pictures co-founder and head Harry Cohn could read the quality of a film based on watching butts twitch in seats.

So in other capitals across the country and around the world we have all joined that methodology, except we compile even more quantitative information as back up and proof of whatever it is our butts twitch to.

So the drivers have led so far to a relatively undesirable condition of rationalized guesswork. The researcher tries to work within this environment and tries to uplift it. Given relative rank in organizations, the researcher usually fails in this nowadays (if absolute success is the bar) except it is relatively better than if the researcher was not pushing that envelope.

The job going forward is to achieve absolute success by overturning the current rationalized guesswork mode and bringing in scientific decision making. What we already pretend to be doing.

Next, the needs:

  • Creative people need the kind of information conducive to generating Big Ideas;
  • Creative pre-tests need to be fast, highly predictive of actual cash register ROI, diagnostically rich and appropriate to being able to make quick fixes that will drive up ROI;
  • On-air cash register measurements of Creative, without use of black box attribution methods, used to reallocate so as to run the most sales-effective Creative executions most if not all of the time;
  • Programming content needs the exact same kinds of pre-testing, except instead of brand advertiser ROI, the success metric is audience size weighted by the marketable CPM – once again devolving to a financial ROI equation;
  • Media (including in-store, CRM, place-based, social, and everything else) need to be measured in terms of how well they reach types of purchasers (heavy, disloyal, etc.) and how well they influence purchase behavior (this is even more important than measuring their reach overlaps since each one has to be bought separately);
  • Crossmedia reach overlaps and synergies need to be measured and validated, their changes tracked, and these information types baked in with all the other information so as to give the decision maker a simple integrated dashboard where real (empirical) unmodeled validated information has ultimate weight. And the modeling (marketing mix and all other forms) needed to fuse together everything for the decision maker is as validated and transparent (not black box) as possible, with almost no weight in terms of which media vehicles to buy – whereas crossmedia overlaps and dollar ROI synergies are the most important factors in making the big planning allocations to media types. This unavoidable leaning of our weight on the modeling crutch is a soft spot to be studied and overcome;
  • All data and data fusion methods need to be validated against actual cash register ROI;
  • Data (and proposed decision) delivery from research to the line must be in the form of utter simplicity via dashboard where exec can play what-ifs and see how ROI forecast changes.

Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? That was a joke of course.

Finally, the prognostications:

I hate to disappoint, but these really are more like prescriptions. The industry has taken some of my prescriptions in the past, but mixed with a heavy dose of countervailing competitive marketplace forces, which tends to change the outcome a bit away from the admittedly utopian picture I had painted of what could be done. So how can I accurately prognosticate what really will happen?

Here’s instead what I think should happen.


Researchers need to do a much better job stoking the fires of the big minds to produce Big Ideas. The advertising business is about producing Big Ideas for money. The rest is just implementation.

By the Creatives I don’t just mean writers and art directors. Everyone is a Creative, to the extent that they are allowed to come up with and share Big Ideas. In some organizations, people are disempowered by not having their Big Ideas taken seriously – but these organizations are becoming more and more rare. Thank God.

Research presentation to Creatives – the people who need to make big planning decisions – has been, well, wanting – that’s probably the kindest word I can use.

People who make planning level decisions need all the information they can get about the people at the other end of the communications process who we are trying to influence. Right now they do get quite a bit. It does generate more insight than probably at any time in the past, including the phase of Motivational research. But it’s not yet enough, and it’s not absorbable and stimulating enough to the writers and art directors.

Instead of dashboards for the writers and artists, something like a ripomatic is used nowadays – both in selling new business and in pumping the Creative people. A ripomatic (or feelomatic, etc.) is a succession of clips – mostly video, a few still, with music – that tell the Creative about the target audience. One thing that could be added is the ability to drill down on one image or idea and get more information in the same emotive form on that facet of the picture – as in some of the early branching video CD-ROMs that IBM, BBC, British Telecom and others produced to show where video could go someday. There might be a dial where the Creative can slow down or speed up the images. And touchscreen or voice command to indicate what to drill down on.

Neuroscience should be able to show a picture of the target audience that is even more conducive to Big Ideas. Findings from neuroscience could be presented in the same video format to inspire the Creative – all findings can be pumped in through the Creative form of the same dashboard idea. Just to have a name I call it the Clashboard – the dashboard for Creative, which is branching video rather than Flash pages that remain static until one plays what-ifs.

The underlying historical reason for both the dashboard and the Clashboard is information overload. People in the advertising industry are no exception – we get even more information than the average person, and the average person is deluged. My book Freeing Creative Effectiveness is all about breaking out of EOP (Emergency Oversimplfication Procedure), the condition that sets in when there is too much information – desperate shortcutting such as rationalized guesswork.

By focusing the eyes on a dashboard or Clashboard that is comprehensive and yet utterly simple, the mind can also begin to focus. All the information is in one place. No distraction thinking of where can I get this piece of missing information – it is all there.

To be continued in next posting on April 24 – covering the Future of Media Research.

In my prior posting I reviewed Neuro-Insight as part of a series on validating our measures across the industry, with emphasis on new cutting edge measures such as in the neuroscience field. Next is a short posting by Chuck Young, CEO of Ameritest, a non-neuro copy testing company whose measures nevertheless are cutting edge and relate to the same mental function levels addressed by some in neuroscience. Researchers if you have validated your measures please send them in and we will publish them here. We post every five days.

All the best,


3 Levels of Validation

In responding to Bill’s recent call for additional validation work on the new techniques of neuro-copy testers, I should point out that I share Bill’s enthusiasm for the new knowledge being generated by the exploding field of neuroscience.  But I also agree with the conclusion of the recent Advertising Research Report that neuroscience techniques should not be used as stand-alones, but in conjunction with the well-established self-report data currently used by mainstream copy testers.

At Ameritest we have been combining in a single on-line system standard copytest metrics with our proprietary Picture Sorts® technique for quite a while.  And while some researchers might not categorize our diagnostic technique with the techniques that measure brain waves, skin conductance, heart rates or facial response, I would argue that our moment-by-moment measure of memory — even though it does not involve electrical apparatus — is equally as important as attention and emotion for understanding how effective advertising works in the brain.

Moreover, our experience working with leading advertisers for many years has taught me that validation is not a one-dimensional construct.

Like the zoom lens of a camera, good copytesting research should be designed to help advertisers see how an ad is going to work when viewed over three different time scales:

  1. Short Term — predicting sales effects over a short-term period of a few weeks to a few months;
  2. Long Term — predicting an ad’s contribution to brand equity over the longer-term period of months to years;
  3. Up Close — diagnosing how an ad is actually working during the few seconds a consumer is interacting with it, in order to provide insights for optimization.


The Resources page of our website ( is an open source for reporting the many experiments and studies we have conducted over the years to validate the effectiveness of our own ad research on all three levels of ad performance. To date, we have contributed over 60 articles and peer-reviewed papers to the ongoing research conversation.   I hope that some of the experiments we have described might be useful as models for how neuro-researchers could approach the problem of validating the incremental value of some of the new technologies being applied to ad research.

To illustrate, one example of validation to sales over the short term, chapter VI of the Handbook of Advertising Research, provides a case history of how standard copytesting measures of creative quality (Attention, Branding, Motivation), when combined with media information on share-of-voice, were able to explain over 60% of the change in same-store-sales in the U.S. that McDonald’s reported in public, to Wall Street, over the year and a half period that was studied.

As an example of validation to long term brand equity, papers such as “Connecting Attention to Memory”, “Aesthetic Emotion and Long Term Ad Effects”, and “Why Ad Memories Fade,” describe experiments that show how the short term, moment-by-moment memory test that we employ in our system can be used to predict the four long term brand memories that are laid down by the average thirty second commercial.

Finally, as an example of how moment-by-moment diagnostics can be used to optimize the performance of commercials before putting them on air, you can read the “Spielberg Variables,” an article in the Harvard Business Review about how Unilever achieved an 87% success rate in improving average performers by re-editing and re-testing ads using the insights provided by our on-line picture sort diagnostics.

Test-retest would be a particularly fast and direct way of proving the added value of these new neuroscience and biometric techniques.  In an age when a high school student with a laptop can do a creditable job of re-editing a commercial and uploading it to Youtube, I suggest that it might be useful for ARF to sponsor a Challenge to copy testers where they can prove the value of these new diagnostic insights by re-editing and re-testing some ads that have proven to be poor performers.  A company like Bill’s TRA, which combines sales with media data, would be ideal for identifying a good set of ads to test.

Chuck Young


Can We Sense The Extremisms In Our Own Culture?

We are what we become used to. Having become used to something, it is taken for granted. Then we don’t notice it any more.

All cultures have extremisms; that’s what makes them cultures*. A perfectly balanced culture would be, by definition, boring. There could be no drama. Who would caonvene such a culture? Not human beings, certainly.

In the Cheyenne culture, courage and leadership are cultivated to the point that the individual is expected to stand against authority. This is their rite of passage. What is ours?

In what way is our culture extreme?


This is interactive; you can answer the question for yourself.

Rather than tell you what my view is, let me give you a clue. See if you can guess it – or better yet, see what you get when you cogitate the following riddle.

When and why did it become acceptable for there to be a ‘bug” – the channel’s logo – and sometimes text promoting other programs – over our TV shows?

What does that tell you about what (one of) our culture’s extremism(s) is?

What I get is that ours is such a mercantile culture, everything has to have a brand on it. We get branded as if with an iron when we pay to buy clothing that advertises some brand we may or may not care about. We should charge on a CPM basis. Finally we had to put the brand on the TV screen to stay there forever and only be relieved by commercials. This may increase commercial effectiveness and reduce program effectiveness accordingly.

Seriously, would Hollywood put a bug over their movies? Even in this mercantile culture, cinema remembers its roots, that in drama one wants to immerse and suspend disbelief, become the protagonist. The bug is a rude interruption to the self-pretend and that bubble bursts or never forms. So we watch to some measurable degree less immersed than we would have been years ago.

For non-drama programming, the bug is to some extent less intrusive.

Biometrics should be easily able to detect this difference.

First Neuroscience Research Company to Submit Validation to


What makes N-I different from all other suppliers is SST: Steady State Topography, the company’s own method being used worldwide today in cognitive neuroscience but in advertising research only by N-I. SST is a measure of neural processing speed at specific sites corresponding to parts of the brain, and metrics are calculated by indexing certain key relationships across sites – such as the SST relationship between left and right prefrontal cortexes, revealing approach-avoidance.

Because commercials involve split-second action, the otherwise superb fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery – similar to the MRIs we get taken of us for medical purposes) technique is too slow to capture changes occurring in response to these fast-changing stimuli, leaving as choices only EEG and SST. EEG uses electrodes the same as SST but is capturing different information – not neural processing speed but the size or magnitude of various EEG components such as alpha activity. These give different information.

For one thing, EEG is a noisy signal. Its low signal-to-noise ratio requires testing by repeating the commercial and then averaging results, ignoring the fact that what one then has is no longer the effect of one exposure. Surprise is no longer present in the repetitions. In Herb Krugman’s terms (Herb is a researcher famed for his work in advertising frequency), the subject after the first exposure is no longer asking What is that, but is now asking, What of it?

SST has a far higher signal-to-noise ratio than EEG so one picture is all the researchers need. The high resolution low noise signal is also obviously ideal in terms of research accuracy while remaining insensitive to factors that can affect EEG such as head movements, muscle tension, blinks and eye movements.

At last year’s ARF Audience Measurement Symposium 5.0, I was serving on the ARF Program Committee and was selected to chair the session on Neuroscience.  Burt Manning, former Chairman/CEO of J. Walter Thompson and one of the industry’s great copywriters and thinkers, had introduced me to Dr. Richard Silberstein, founder/CEO of Neuro-Insight and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Swinburne University in Melbourne. I invited Dr. Silberstein along with Innerscope’s Carl Marci, Sands Research’s Steve Sands, and CBS’s David Poltrack to become the neuroscience plenary panel for that symposium, moderated by Ameritest’s Chuck Young.

During that lively panel the neuroscientists all presented slides and Dr. Silberstein showed three case studies validating SST against sales, online traffic and correct product recall (financial services) respectively. In the most relevant sales case (Bird’s Eye frozen fish), the SST research suggested that a split-second change at a single point during the commercial caused a 130% increase in actual sales ROI.

Based on the extensive scientific validation evidence sent to me by N-I, and the cases shared at ARF last year, I would be interested as a researcher in using SST to help refine nearly-finished commercials before using them on air.

I hope more copy testers will come forward and send me your piles of evidence too, which I will give equal space here.

Best to all,


*Here’s one definition of “cultures” from Wikipedia: the distinct ways that people living in different parts of the world classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively. I am characterizing “distinct” as “extreme”.

Where Will Neuroscience Make Its Greatest Contribution to Advertising?

At the recent Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) Re:THINK 2011 conference, ARF reported the results of its study of nine different suppliers’ tests of the same commercials. All nine suppliers utilized their own approach to the measurement of involuntary psychophysiological response to stimuli.

Later that day, two other suppliers who had decided against participation were probably patting themselves on the back for staying out of the study. Why? Because the report had the result of (slightly) dialing back what had been the industry’s excitement about these new tools. The general picture painted was: (1) there is still a lot of work to be done; (2) at least some of the suppliers had not done their homework to become better informed about the test campaigns themselves; and (3) counter to expectation, these practitioners in general appeared to be less rather than more scientific than the existing state of the art in copy testing.

The folks at ARF certainly didn’t set out to pour cold water – they went into this with high enthusiasm about the promise of neuroscience for advertising. What happened?

Perhaps the problem was that the ARF, in order to gain cooperation, promised not to identify the pros/cons of individual suppliers. This protocol had worked well for the Council on Research Excellence (CRE) in their study of set top box (STB) data/analysis suppliers last year, which probably would not have gained enough cooperation to go forward otherwise.

Now the learning experience for industry leadership is that composite supplier descriptions/evaluations is a technique that must be carefully adapted on a case-by- case basis. In fact, the key difference between the two studies is that CRE did not cross the line from description into evaluation, whereas ARF did cross that line.

Possibly this was because the STB data analysis companies were willing to disclose techniques more so than were the neuroscientists. Perhaps ARF felt there would be nothing to report without evaluation, since in-depth technique description was not available. (Although I know of one supplier than provided 40 pages of such documentation.)

Today’s blog posting is motivated by the desire to see no slowdown in the development of the neuroscience field for the advertising industry and in general. Some years ago we did some advertising neuroscience of our own in company with Dr. Richard Davidson, today one of the most respected and quoted neuroscientists in the world, and Dr. Daniel Goleman, best known for his best-selling book series on emotional intelligence, a term he coined. That work convinced this writer that neuroscience can be of great value in advertising and media.

For example, in the research Drs. Richardson, Goleman and I conducted, we succeeded in using neuroscience to solve a conundrum that had baffled a leading drug company for years:

One of their big-spending TV over-the-counter brands had run a commercial years earlier that rang the bell so strongly there was no denying it had caused a substantial sales increase. For years, the agency tried to replicate the results with new commercials but never succeeded.

Neuroscience, however, was able to identify why the commercial was so effective, with such clarity that the agency was able to create a new commercial nearly as sales effective as its progenitor.

This case study is instructive in terms of how to derive greatest value from neuroscience in the context of advertising: instead of using biometrics to evaluate the power of a commercial, we used it to dissect the reason for a commercial’s power.

In other words, we used neuroscience diagnostically rather than evaluatively.

Instead of trying to answer the question “How well does it work?” we set out to answer a different question, “how (or why) does it work?”

Which is not to say that neuroscience cannot be used both ways, just that it’s possible the greatest increase in knowledge might come diagnostically. This is at least something worth looking into.

In the case just described, part of how the commercial worked is that it created the brain signature of the pain state in the viewer. By then segueing to a shot of the product package and the use of the product ending with a pain-free actor, the commercial ended with removal of the pain signature in the viewer’s brain.

Hence the viewer when next in the real pain state would subconsciously remember the product that removed the pain state. Classic problem-solution at the involuntary level rather than at the rational level.

So what is the generalizable clue? The concept of brain signatures for more complex states.

What if we as an industry are able to become aware of the brain signatures of brand gratitude, brand affinity, persuasion, purchase intent – signatures that can be validated against the same person’s change in brand purchase behavior?

What if we can also learn the brain signatures of specific blocks to a commercial’s success, such as lack of comprehension, disbelief, and distrust?

Neuroscience commercial testers are using the concept of brain signatures, but many seem to be stopping at purely evaluative signatures such as attention, arousal, and approach/avoidance, rather than the more complex diagnostic signatures suggested above, which tell more about why a commercial is or is not working.

In the interest of perhaps making a modest contribution to industry knowledge, and to  supplement ARF’s composite report, we will provide a venue in upcoming blog postings for any interested neuro (and non-neuro) copy testers to communicate their validation work, which we will present with individual supplier identification and our own editorial commentary.


Briefly Observed News in the Media

  • On April 4, in an interview regarding Libya on Fox News, Dr. Henry Kissinger enunciated his recommended policy for US intervention in such situations. Because US resources are not infinite and are already overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, he proposed that the US only become involved in other countries that meet both of the following two criteria:

    • Humanitarian concerns e.g. people being killed by their own government
    • US national strategic interests
  • On April 5, the media reported that because of the situation in Japan, it is being considered that the evacuation zone for the Indian Point Nuclear Power facility in case of an emergency be expanded from ten miles to fifty miles – which would mean the necessity of evacuating New York City. (Need I say more?)
  • Also April 5, it was reported that Muammar Gaddafi is considering a deal to step down. Miraculously, he reached out to Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon, one American he trusted (we have written about the importance of trust before), who flew into Libya to meet with Gaddafi. Weldon is the American that Gaddafi had spent more time with than any other American. I have heard it said that one person does not matter, but obviously that is not always the case. In the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”


Best to all,


Gratitude Reach Units (GRUs)

“Quality Of Life (QOL) advertising/promotion… advertising/promotion designed to trigger a feeling of appreciation or gratitude as the audience realizes that the advertiser has made a positive contribution to the quality of life, either in the advertisement/promotion itself, or in a separate event that the advertising/promotion recounts.” —Media Science Newsletter, June, 1979

Since 1979, there has been an upsurge in the use of Cause Marketing to the point of overload, as pointed out in the June 1, 2010 AdAge blog by Mike Swenson, CEO of Barkley, whose Cause agency clients include H&R Block, Lee Jeans, and the March of Dimes. Mike comments that when Cause is done right, the emotional partnership with the audience is achieved, but this emotional connection is missed when Cause is just another incentive to buy a product right away. He more broadly observes that Cause is in danger of being moved into the promotions department where its practitioners will have no in-depth appreciation for how it works or what it is meant to be, hence they will eliminate its effectiveness both for social good and for profits.

The only way for gratitude marketing to work is for it to be motivated by social good as much as by company good. The reason is that the public is so cynical and suspicious, they will root out insincerity even if it is artfully concealed. As if a great law of karma were at work: gratitude can only be an effective strategy if it is done with real intent for social benefit. Therefore the selling must be side-stepped, if not left out entirely.

Have these ideas ever been empirically tested, that a gratitude strategy can work if the  advertising does not try to sell, and merely provides a gift of some kind to its audience? There are 28 cases summarized in an ARF paper I co-authored in 2006, reporting that Internet sponsorships can generate extremely high persuasion scores and ROIs when there is no selling at all, and when the content is something that the audience can reasonably be expected to perceive as an unexpected gift.

Such as what? What kinds of communication content have been proven to generate these high metrics? Objective product information that is not entirely positive (gift of honesty), yet is utilitarian and not-overworn; information of interest to specific target audiences (e.g. Volvo sponsors Yahoo coverage of The NY Auto Show — Volvo paid so buyers could see Volvo competitors too — again gift of honesty, this time also showing confidence in one’s product); and educational content (e.g. how to be a great digital photographer). These are the dominant three content types across those studies.

Not included in that ARF paper but learned elsewhere we also know now that gratitude strategy can work with true sponsorship (“true”=no selling) of:

  • content that is hard to come by (e.g. jazz),
  • a report of some act of good corporate citizenship (Cause),
  • content that is inspiring and/or educational, and so on — the possibilities are endless, depending on the interests and lifestyles of the people in the target audience.

The idea of Gratitude Reach Units (GRUs) — which I had referred to as “QOL spots” in the 70s — resurfaced in my work for Internet publishers using the gratitude strategy. These publishers were achieving high CPMs and renewal rates with their advertiser clients, because marketing mix modeling and persuasion scores were so high. However, their Internet work for these advertisers remained a very small part of the total marketing pie for these same advertisers, because a gratitude-producing site on the Internet has very low reach. Yet the right sorts of people come to the site, the very ones that the brand is most interested in reaching, and they leave with an increased trust and liking for the sponsoring brand — because the brand did not ruin the moment by selling.

The Internet publishers were happy with Next Century Media's work in gratitude effect. But they wanted to find a way to become more important to their advertiser clients, and to somehow release their powerful gratitude method on a larger audience.

Hence the idea of Gratitude Reach Units — use some of a brand’s 30-second TV spots as GRUs, miniprograms with zero brand-sell, just with well-produced useful and/or inspiring content. Reports of humanitarian work in some cases; 9-year-old girls who sing opera as if trained for decades; true stories of everyday unsung heroes who go on every day nonetheless — whatever it might be. Again, the content is endless.

Not in a low-reach (“pull”) Internet site, but a 30- second (“push”) TV spot where high reach can be achieved.

For most brands’ targets, the content will mirror the kinds of content that ANA’s Family Friendly advertiser effort — led by folks like Barbara Bacce-Mirque — has been seeking and putting on the air for many years. In GRU form it will only be 30- (actually anywhere in the range of 20-120) second form rather than 60 minutes.

For a smaller number of brands aimed at younger people, GRUs may need to be edgier.

This is a testable concept. A brand can take a small percentage of the inventory it has already been allocated in an upfront buy — say 3% of the brand’s inventory — and use it for GRUs. Marketing mix and singlesource (and holdout geo areas) can be used to accurately measure the ROI impact of GRUs. If it lifts ROI, further testing can then optimize the percentage that should be GRU. It will undoubtedly differ by brands — more GRUs being desirable where the brand itself is perceived by most buyers to be at parity without significant advantages, fewer GRUs where the brand has a compelling and evident competitive edge.

Affinity/liking for the brand, respect, trust, appreciation, gratitude, “the brand is my friend”, experiential connections with the brand, inspiration — these will be the main diagnostic metrics to be used in creating and pre-testing program content for GRU sponsored miniprograms to run in commercial inventory. Neuromarketing measures should go beyond arousal and approach/avoidance, attempting to find a detectable signature for the gratitude effect. Frontal lobes, and smile/frown muscle electromyography, are two of my hunches, in the search for gratitude detection. Obviously the better we can pre-test and improve GRUs the more effective they will be in terms of financial ROI.

Who knows how great the ROI might turn out to be in terms of social good?

Best to all,