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September 24, 2006

New Advertising Techniques Using Scientific Methods to Better Understand Consumers

For those interested in the newest techniques to try and make advertising more effective and more accountable, a fascinating article by Kenneth Chang in The New York Times last Tuesday emphasizes the increasing use of scientific methods to better advertise and lay out stores for consumers.

Some of the methods are surprising. A multi-variable technique started by QualPro found that, when working with auto salesmen, full-page ads didn't get attention any better than half-page ads and, in many cases, adding color didn't increase attention to the ad, either. However, some combination of factors seemed to. Newspapers probably don't particularly like this approach, especially since color and full-page ads are particular cash cows for many print publications. But it goes to show you that many aspects of human behavior are counter-intuitive.

Some of the initiatives just seem helpful. Office supply store OfficeMax has hired Envirosell, a New York market research company, to come into its stores and apply anthropological approaches to understanding how consumers interact with the building. Among their findings were that most consumers paid no attention to products in the front of the store when they first walk in, a time that they call "decompression" in which the customer is still trying to adjust from being outside to being in a large store with a lot of people and merchandise. They also found that consumers tend to turn right when they first walk in and that, if they are in a situation where they can barely get through aisles without bumping into another person, they are likely to leave.

The store is combining that knowledge with close measurements of what people buy to understand how to better serve customers. By looking at what people often buy in tandem, OfficeMax is attempting to pair those items together to make the experience better for consumers and also increase their profits, since helpful products will be located in close proximity.

Other initiatives seem a little scary. FKF Applied Research are doing something straight out of John Carpenter's The Live, fine-tuning the message behind television advertisements so that they will generate the correct brain activity in viewers and make advertisements more effective. Consume. Procreate. Buy an automobile.

I don't mean to sound reactionary or to claim that there's something wrong with FKF's methods, since the purpose of ads are to get people to buy and it isn't as if they can fine tune the process so that we all go out and buy a car every time a Mazda ad airs, but it does demonstrate just how scientific some initiatives are becoming. According to the story, the consulting firm "sticks people in magnetic resonance imaging machines and shows them television commercials, studying how much brain reaction commercials generate.

For anyone interested in advertising and marketing, be sure to check this article out.

Thanks to William Uricchio for passing this along.

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