Where Do You Look When You Look At An Ad?

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(Image: Patrickpedia)
(Image: Patrickpedia)

Marketers want people to look at their ads. People would rather look elsewhere. That existential struggle drives commerce, as marketers look for ever more clever ways of getting your attention.

MediaBrix is trying to figure out how all this works on the small screen. The New York-based firm recently studied how people interact with their smart phones when an ad appears. Perhaps the most important finding is the way the ad is presented. If the ad was presented as an “opt in,” it got a lot of attention. If it was an “annoying pop up”, people looked for the exit.

“There was no research out there that quantified this” until the MediaBrix study, explained Richard Kosinski, President and Chief Revenue Officer at MediaBrix. “In marketing today, the stakes for a Chief Marketing Officer and his team are quite high,” he said. “Our gut tells us [a pop-up ad] can be a bad experience. The data proves that out.”

Reading Minds

So how did they get the data? MediaBrix relied on a match-up of technology and inquiry.

Sixty-four test subjects were each given a handheld to play a game of “Scattergories”, which requires some active thinking to play. Each session took about 15 minutes per subject. In the middle of the game, an ad would appear on the little screen.

If the ad is just a “pop up” (interstitial), the player got annoyed and after about nine seconds looked for the X button to get out of the ad. If the ad was some kind of “embedded opt in”, the viewer became engaged and spent about 40 seconds with the ad. It could be as simple as offering the player some help if they got stuck on the game, brought to you by the sponsor.

How MediaBrix acquired the data is just as interesting as its findings.

First, subjects had to wear a portable MRI on their heads. The device measured brain activity, but more importantly, measured which parts of the brain were activated when the user interacted with the on-screen game and the ad.

Second, subjects also wore special eyeglasses that tracked eyeball movement. That information noted where on the small screen they were looking. This was cross-indexed with the brain mapping charted by the head-worn MRI.

Finally, subjects were asked questions to develop survey information on their impressions.

The combination of neuro-scientific and biometric data might offer some insight as to how people process information subconsciously, Kosinksi explained. “About 90 percent of all decisions are made subconsciously.” Yet trying to get some insight as to how the mind processes information can lend some understanding on motivation.

Numbers

So what did all this measurement reveal?

Ninety percent of the subjects watched an entire 30-second ad if it was presented as an embedded opt-in. Only 25 percent did the same with the interstitial ad. That implies 75 percent of the viewers found the pop-up ads annoying.

Here, the brain mapping of the MRI revealed something. While viewers eyes were scanning the small screen for the X-button to make the ad end, a portion of the brain that regulates the “flight or fight” response was being stimulated.

Interstitial ads were twice as likely to trigger a negative response in this part of the brain, Kosinski noted.  Hence viewers were quick to bag the annoying pop up as soon as they could find X. That left viewers spending only nine seconds with the pop-up (minus two seconds in contextual time, leaving seven seconds for fixation), compared to 40 seconds of brand time for the embedded opt-in (minus 19 seconds of contextual time, leaving 21 seconds on fixation).

Going by the numbers, the annoying pop-up ad is doomed. Kosinksi pointed out the the number of ad blockers that have been downloaded in the past 12-18 months: about 420 million. “Users are voting with their fingers. They are revolting against the disruptive ad experience.” he said.

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