Is Market Research Precisely Wrong?

There is a fundamental problem with most market research. David Ogilvy, the ‘Father of Advertising’, recognised it:

“People don’t do what they say, don’t say what they think, and don’t think how they feel.”

Traditional methods of market research focus on what can be gleaned from the conscious mind largely because until recently the tools to investigate the subconscious mind were not readily available.

Bunnyfoot conducted a comparison study of an award winning national advertising campaign that clearly shows the difference in conscious and unconscious responses to advertising. We tested the creative with 30 appropriate people recruited via in-street intercepts.

Firstly we tested the advert below within the context of a magazine.

When seen in this context their combined eye tracking heatmap shows that they paid little attention to the advert:

The “hot” colours of red and yellow show there is some attention on the drawing of the car and on the copy in the sky, but little attention on the other copy elements or on the advertiser’s logo.

We then showed the advert to the same 30 people out of context (that is, as a standalone image, not embedded within a magazine) and asked them to look at it. The heatmap clearly shows that people looked at the advert for much longer:

More importantly the participants engage with elements that were ignored when seen within the context of the magazine. In particular the logo, the emotional message “Why get a car when you can get a Land Rover” and the rational message “0% APR typical” are all studied intently. It is clear that the participants viewing behaviour was dramatically changed by taking the advert out of the context of the medium in which it would have normally been seen. When we ask the conscious mind to pay attention to something it pays attention to it! When left to its own devices the subconscious mind pays little attention to the advert.

If marketers assessed this ad’s effectiveness with only the research from when the advert was viewed out of context (e.g. an online panel survey) they could be misled into thinking that the ad is highly effective at communicating the brand, rational and emotional messages. With an in-context test that accurately measures real subconscious behaviour, the advert proves to be much less effective.

Why is there such a difference between the results?

There are two types of cognitive activity that take place in the brain; conscious and unconscious:

Conscious cognition is slow and deliberate. It’s what we call “thinking”. It’s more logical and rational, for example when asked most smokers express a preference to cut down or to stop, but typically they don’t… Conscious thought maybe be as little as 1% of what goes on in the brain.

Unconscious cognition is rapid and automatic. You don’t think about how to read a magazine, you just do it. That is the unconscious in action.
Unconscious responses tend to be emotional and visceral, what we call “gut reactions” and “intuitions”. They may account for up to 99% of our brain activity.
Traditional market research focuses on what can be gleaned from the conscious mind because it’s expedient, in the words of John Banham:

“We are in danger of valuing most highly those things we can measure most accurately, which means we are often precisely wrong rather than approximately right.”

What can we do about it?

At Bunnyfoot we have developed observational research methodologies to measure the unconscious emotional and cognitive response to adverts, concepts and packaging design. The methodologies include facial coding to understand the emotional affect and eye tracking to measure the cognitive response.
Bunnyfoot delivers research like this with turnaround times as short as 24 hours, and with costs similar to running a single focus group.
Let your powerful unconscious mind visualise the benefits of that sort of rapid, cost-effective consumer insight!

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About Bunnyfoot

We are psychologists, interaction and design experts, researchers, usability specialists. We cover Web, software, mobile, print, service design and more.
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