New York, NY — When I walked into a recent leadership meeting, I found two things on my chair: a copy of the Harvard Business Review (the one with the Advertising Analytics article on the cover) and a hardback of Unconscious Branding by Douglas Van Praet. It’s a book that we can’t stop talking about because it takes on all the challenges and limitations of creating break-thru work with same-old market research techniques.
Van Praet’s core premise is that emotion – not logic – is at the core of all our decision making. As the neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor puts it, “We live in a world where we are taught from the start that we are thinking creatures that feel. The truth is, we are feeling creatures that think.” In fact, we don’t even think our way to logical answers. We feel our way to the reason. Emotions don’t hinder our decisions. They drive them.
That should be great news for us. Marketers are supposed to be experts at understanding and engaging people at a very emotional level. The challenge comes when we test that creative by sitting behind a one-way mirror, enjoying some M&Ms and asking people to consciously explain the unconscious origins of their actions.
We want their limited, linear left brains to explain the sensory responses of their creative right brain. So, the left brain uses its numbers and words to try to explain the right brain’s emotions and sensations. That creates an enormous gap between what we say and what we experience.
Van Praet said, “Describing joy or sorrow as an arithmetic mean is like describing a van Gogh painting as a binomial coefficient.” The real human experience is something that data can’t capture. “We need to generate smiles, tears, or goose bumps–not significant differences correlated at the 95% confidence interval,” he explained.
The great example is the Volkswagen commercial that Deutsch LA created for the Super Bowl.
In standard testing, it didn’t garner the gold-standard of purchase intent. Instead, it rated a below-average persuasion score. These are the numbers that we make multi-million dollar bets on despite their spotty correlation to actual sales data.
But that didn’t mean it didn’t generate a strong emotional response. In the annual Sands Research Super Bowl Ad Neuro Ranking, which measures not what people say but how they feel through electrophysiological activity in the brain, the ad elicited the strongest emotional response that they’d ever seen in testing.
Of course, the bet VW made on “The Force” paid off. The spot was one of the most-shared and talked-about in the Super Bowl mix. And, well beyond the impressions it paid for during the big game, it earned billions of YouTube impressions, estimated to be worth more than $100 million in earned media. Oh, and, the VW brand achieved the best U.S. market share in 30 years.
Van Praet’s ideas point to new approaches to advertising. But, there’s still much more work to be done on how to test them.
Take a look at this Coke video for a few hints at how their company is changing the market research mix (FFW to minute 4:32 if you’re in a hurry).
What’s the best new approach to market research you’ve seen?
Posted by: Leigh Householder