Have you ever watched a TV commercial and not known what it was advertising? Sometimes we can see the same advertisement day after day and even become familiar with the advertisement’s narrative content. Yet, when asked what the advertisement is trying to sell, we are at a loss. The question is, why is the commercial failing so badly?

One way to answer this question is to run a marketing research study, and simply ask respondents why they didn’t or couldn’t engage with the branding message in the advertisement. This might provide an answer. However, research has shown that visual attention is complex and involves both conscious and unconscious impulses. Because visual attention often depends upon unconscious impulses, respondents may not really understand their own visual behavior. This can lead respondents to give rationalizations for their patterns of visual attention that are, in fact, quite wrong. This is a serious problem as, in marketing research, a wrong answer is often much worse than no answer at all.

You may well have heard of eye tracking for marketing research. When used in a marketing research study, eye tracking can give important insights into viewer’s engagement with marketing material through visual behavior analysis. At a very basic level, visual behavior analysis allows the marketing researcher to see through the eyes of the customer and to determine the customer’s focus of attention at any given point in time. The hope is that, by conducting visual behavior analysis, we can spot potential problems with the marketing material before the campaign is launched.

What can visual behavior analysis tell us that we don’t already know? Marketing professionals rely on marketing research to garner insights into customer opinions and behavior. This data is often interpreted with the aid of empathetic skills, intuition, and experience. However, eye tracking gives you a more direct access to the viewer’s thought processes through visual behavior analysis. This is important, as eye tracking is not merely about viewer’s eye gaze patterns. Visual behavior analysis helps us understand what the viewer is thinking. When we watch a viewer’s eye gaze pattern over an advertisement, we gain an understanding of the viewer’s thought processes. What they are looking at and why? Are they paying attention to the key branding visuals? What is the link between attention to branding visuals and the ability of the viewer to recall branding information at a later date? Do the viewers read the textual information? If so, how much of the text do they read?

These are just some of the generic insights offered by visual behavior analysis. However, when we combine visual behavior data with contextual information relating to the advertisement, the respondent’s demographic data, and the respondent’s self-reported data; it is possible to build up a rich picture of the viewer’s overall engagement with the advertisement in terms of both behavior and underlying opinions. This data helps us better understand the viewer. It helps us determine what marketing messages work for viewers and what marketing messages leave them cold. As part of a multi-modal marketing research study, eye tracking allows us to determine if the viewers get our marketing message. If the viewer does get it, eye tracking studies will tell us why, and if the viewer doesn’t get it, the visual behavior analysis will give us the data we need to determine why the advertisement has failed.

Also published on Medium.