ABC1 No Longer Tells the Whole Story

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Recently, IPA Touchpoint research revealed the extent of the media overload facing both viewers and advertisers alike; in the UK, the study found that nearly all adults consume two or more different types of media in the same half hour, whilst a quarter admitted to alternating between three.

When faced with such complex media consumption patterns, it stands to reason that advertisers will have to take a similarly nuanced approach to their audience research. As budgets bite and robust results are required of each and every creative decision, it is more imperative than ever that advertisers and agencies can look to the insight process to ensure the effectiveness of their work.

Historically, agency and marketing briefs are accompanied by coded representations of millions of people – ABC1, C2DE, or location/occupation-based classifications – which are designed to inform the planning and creative process behind a campaign. These traditional methods of segmentation have their merits, as they provide a clear way to break down an audience. From a neuroscience perspective, for example, there are clear physiological differences between male and female brains that are real and important, making gender splits a logical starting point for many studies.

However, demographic segmentation can often fall short of meaningful insight – hence why many marketers and researchers have added additional layers of analysis on top, further segmenting audiences based on behaviours, and then once again, based on claimed attitudes. When used in conjunction, these “three dimensions” of audience segmentation can provide a much fuller set of insights than can be achieved with any one method used in isolation.

Despite this, the interaction which takes place between audiences and the content they are viewing is often so nuanced it is hard to understand just by asking questions, and even “three dimensional” segmentation tends to be predominantly question-dependent. Where these traditional segmentations can fall short is in forgetting that the audiences in questions are much more than just a target group – they are people too. When asked questions, audiences might tell us what we want to hear, try to make themselves look good, or simply tell us what they believe to be the truth – not knowing that their subconscious may tell a different story.

This is not always an issue – if the questions you are asking are rational, such as whether someone has a pet, or how often they take public transport to work, their answers are usually accurate. However, if you are looking to understand attitudes and actions that have a stronger emotional aspect, then failing to understand the subconscious – the “fourth dimension” – could limit the quality of insight that can be gathered.

In contrast to other research methods, neuroscience can reveal the subconscious responses of audiences, beyond the things that they are aware of. When an understanding of subconscious responses is added to the mix, it can help move from broad-brush segmentations to truly actionable insights. Neuroscience researchers can’t read minds, but using good neuroscience methods – such as the Steady State Topography (SST) methodology – can illuminate the subconscious cognitive processes which are constantly taking place in the brain, and which can have a strong impact on our attitudes and decisions.

A study Neuro-Insight ran looking at the Diet Coke “Gardener” ad supported this notion that sometimes you have to look beyond traditional – and often logical – segmentation to get the full picture. Based on previous studies, and the content of the ad, we thought it would likely to have a powerful appeal to women, and therefore included it in a study run amongst a female audience. The ad opens to an attractive gardener mowing the grass, who is soon drenched in Diet Coke when he opens an errant can rolled towards him by a group of female onlookers.

Our prior experience with similar ads had us anticipating a positive emotional reaction to the scene where the gardener removes his T-shirt. However, the emotional response to the ad was actually quite negative; the reaction to the big reveal of the gardener’s toned torso was luke-warm, and when the Diet Coke can was opened there was a strong withdrawal response.

We quickly realised that this was because the female demographic split did not tell us the whole story; the study we had been running was for a baby product, and so the female audience was actually atypical as it featured young mothers specifically. As a result, the dirty t-shirt likely triggered emotions associated with the messier aspects of having a baby, whilst the toned torso elicited less interest than may have been expected of their pre-baby selves.

Our suspicions were confirmed when we subsequently put the advert into a study with a more typical sample of women – it drove a much more positive emotional response, with a strong emotional peak when the t-shirt was removed. Despite the clear difference in subconscious response of the two groups, the claimed response to the question of how much they liked the ad was the same. It was only through using neuroscience to dig deeper, past the initial demographic split, that we were able to discover what was, in retrospect, a logical and more nuanced audience segmentation.

Using neuroscience research methods to reveal differences in demographic groups is just one of the ways they can be used to draw more meaningful insights. For example, one of the key measurements included in the SST methodology is “engagement”, which tells us how personally relevant the viewers find the content they’re being shown. This lets us know the extent to which the brain subconsciously identifies and relates to a brand, which can be more revealing than what people can tell us themselves.

This insight can be used to segment audiences based on brain response; for example, dividing up a sample of people on the basis of their engagement response to the brand itself. Such an approach could help advertisers identify which pieces of content are most polarising, and which act best as drivers of brand affinity – helping to eliminate all but the most compelling creative work.

Such segmentation techniques, based on subconscious responses that even audiences themselves are not aware of, are part of a neuroscience-based “fourth dimension” of research. This is not a replacement of traditional techniques; as illustrated above, demographic splits are often a necessary and sound “starter-for-ten” for marketers and researchers. Instead, this fourth dimension can act to provide another layer of actionable insights, and illuminate responses that even viewers themselves are not able to articulate.

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