Colmar Brunton attempts to open the windows to consumers’ souls with new facial mapping technology

The debate between those in favour of pre-testing ads and the creative departments who generally oppose it is an ongoing one. But Colmar Brunton has some new ammunition in its fight and is about to launch a new development to its Link pre-testing product that uses facial mapping technology to find out how consumers respond to ads. 

Darren Poole, the global brands director for Link, is currently in New Zealand teaching the locals how to use the Affectiva-developed technology, which stemmed from collaborative research at the MIT Media Lab and uses computer algorithms to read people’s faces.

He says creating an emotional response is always important if brands and agencies hope to create great, effective advertising, firstly because it helps gets through the consumer’s attention filter and get noticed, and secondly because it puts the brand in a positive light when they encounter it in the real world.

But he says the problem with asking consumers how they feel is that they often don’t know or are incapable of telling anyone. The face, however, “is the window to the soul” and it’s very difficult to mask what you’re feeling—unless “you’ve got a really good poker face”.

Researchers have long been “trying to get into the brains of consumers without them knowing it”. And while he says they have had some good results from neuroscientific research and eyetracking technology, this solution is “really quite cool”.

Previously, the only people who were able to read emotions from facial expressions were trained psychologists, Tim Roth in Lie to Me or possibly the new-school Sherlock Holmes. But by using webcams and establishing anchor points on the face, it can picks up on things like the puckering of lips, the wrinkling of noses and movement of the eyebrows and chart whether there was more of an overall positive or negative emotional response to what was being watched (Link has tested more than 72,000 ads around the world over the past 30 years and, just like the existing approach, subjects are shown the ad twice).

Poole says it also offers what some research companies and broadcasters might call the worm, which is able to show how viewers are responding at specific moments throughout the ad, whether good or bad. It can also be split into responses from target demographics.

In the past, Poole says the debate around pre-testing has often centred on the type of questions being asked by researchers. “But this is about the face, so you can’t deny it,” he says.


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