The McCann Time Capsule: Innovating in Consumer Neuroscience
Nowadays when we see a head outfitted with a big contraption over the eyes, the immediate association is virtual reality, as McCann NY’s humorous new cowz.vr teaser spot for Chick-fil-A attests. But in the 1960s, people whose heads were buried in large camera boxes might have been part of McCann research arm Marplan’s studies of consumer responses to TV commercials based on eyeball dilation and contraction.
The Marplan Perception Lab, one of McCann’s many consumer research innovations, began its incubation with the agency’s 1960 grant supporting research by Dr. Eckhard Hess, Chairman of the Psychology Department at the University of Chicago. Interpublic (which grew out of McCann’s capabilities expansion in the early 1960s) continued to invest through Marplan in the development of the eye camera theory and technology.
In 1968, eye cameras traveled out of the lab and into the shopping environment. Perception Lab test centers were installed in shopping malls in Paramus, N.J., Chicago, and Whittier, California, based on the theory that “the most reliable research is done at what is called the ‘buying environment.’”
An internal McCann news bulletin from 1968 recounts the development of the technology and some of the neuroscience findings.
The initial 1960-1964 period was “devoted to developing the highly sensitive instruments needed to measure the eye pupil and validating the basic principles that the response of the eye pupil reflects interest, emotion, thought processes and attitudes. In 1964, Marplan began applying the new technique to the study of viewer response to TV commercials, and in the eight years since the project first began, it has serviced 150 clients on more than 3,000 studies and has accumulated data on 100,000 consumers.”
Among the conclusions reached by the researchers:
· Children viewing commercials prefer to see youngsters portrayed in interesting situations. Kids are particularly intrigued when they see children making mischief. Close-ups of children merely being cute do not have any impact on their peers.
· If a commercial does not interest the viewer during the opening seconds, it is rare that he or she will “tune in” or become interested in anything that comes after, no matter how dramatic or exciting it may be.
· Sound, specifically the impact of the announcer’s voice as well as the music itself, can be measured by the eye camera. Some outstanding commercials were greatly enhanced by the musical background. In other cases, it was clear that the music distracted from the commercial message.
· Perception research can help in creating as well as in assessing commercials. The eye camera reveals where and how the commercial is weak. Many times it can indicate where small changes or editing can substantially improve the emotional response to the advertising.
But to get beyond the technicalities in summing up what the eye camera was about for advertisers: small pupils = bad reaction, big pupils = good reaction.