How neuroscience can test the impact of your design choices


Digital Arts

An online test is using methods of neuroscience to analyse subconscious reactions to brand campaign visuals before the campaign launches.

Digital production studio Saddington Baynes has teamed up with neuromarketing consultancy NeuroStrata to create the service, called Engagement InsightsThis provides designers and advertising agencies with an alternative-testing tool to traditional user groups. 

Engagement Insights is an online test developed by neuroscientists over the last 25 years, which measures intuitive emotional reactions to adjustments in imagery. This can allow brands to experiment with different aesthetic options to alter a certain visual impact and emotional engagement within the planning stages of a brand campaign. 

Saddington Baynes says understanding a consumer’s instinctive thought process is crucial for a successful campaign, as up to 95 percent of our decisions are made subconsciously. 

The online service, now two years into development, provides an alternative to traditional user group testing, where the act of asking about an emotion can also distort it.

Saddington Baynes executive creative director James Digby-Jones says the smallest visual alteration can change how the campaign is perceived. 

“We’ve seen this before in previous examples of neuroscience research – even changes as subtle as altering the size of a person’s pupils on the cover of a book can have a measureable impact on people’s buying patterns, and all without them realising they’ve even been influenced.” 

He says if you Google Image search “watches”, you’ll notice most are set to ten minutes past ten. This is because people find it off putting to see a watch tell a specific time, like 3pm. These small details can have a big impact on the way an image is received.

Saddington Baynes has discovered through the test that the slightest motion blur on an image of a speeding car can be the distinction between someone finding the visual realistic or not. Another example is the colour of the background behind the car. The test found a black background is considered more premium, but white more trustworthy.

Furthermore, results from Engagement Insights found despite the assumption that the front three-quarters of the car should be given prominence; it was the rear three-quarters that provoked a more positive reaction.

Participants who take the online test are shown pods of images and words denoting the emotional attributes currently being tested, such as ‘exciting’ or ‘safe’, as seen below. Respondents then place these words into a positive or negative category. The test is designed to measure automatic connections between image and emotional response without the participant consciously preparing an answer.

These words are analysing the digital production company's own creation of the Asics Gellyfish, for Asics' Gel Runs Deep, campaign to launch the Gel Quantum 360 in the US. The hybrid jellyfish/sports shoe concept, as seen below, won Best CGI Winner at the Le Book Connections Awards and Gold for Best Professional Animation at the International Creativity Awards.

Engagement Insights is based on two psychological principles – the notion of priming and the interference effect in reaction times. 

Priming occurs when we’re exposed to something like an image, and things we associate with that image then spring to mind. Showing two things that are different, effectively slowing your reaction time on a task, compared to being shown two things that are the same, tests the interference effect.

These results are then passed onto a neuromarketing team who analyse the aggregated results.

But it’s also important to know exactly who takes the test, and how it gives different results to already existing methods.

James says research recruiters source at least 200 respondents from either the general population or within certain demographics – for example, Honda drivers, or high-salary professionals from Middle America – and this is defined depending on the goal of the campaign.

The test differs to traditional user group testing by doing away with specific questions such as “what do you feel about this image?” that inherently begin to shape the response already.

“The rational brain is engaged in responding to the direct questions, and the answers are unavoidably distorted by outside influences,” says James. “This isn’t always the case, of course, but it happens.” 

Because no one can cheat or consciously prepare for the test, James believes it allows access to emotional, pure data.

Chief executive of Saddington Baynes Chris Christodoulou says in an industry where left-brained people make many of the money decisions; a neuroscience approach can cull a lot of ideas before they get into fruition.

He envisions Engagement Insights growing into live productions, more tests and growing the database.

Saddington Baynes has created animation campaigns for brands such as Honda, O2, Olay and Nissan.

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