WPP Shop Tries to Rewrite Research

Added Value Helps Ford, Others Predict Consumers' Emotions Toward Brands

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According to Maggie Taylor, asking consumers to critique ads is so yesterday. Instead, the North American CEO of Kantar Group's Added Value unit uses an approach she says "turns advertising research on its ear." Rather than evaluate what consumers think about a brand, the WPP Group company's new market-research tool, Emotional Brand Connection, looks at how consumers think the brand will make them feel.
Added Value research found that this Ford F-150 spot caused viewer anxiety.
Added Value research found that this Ford F-150 spot caused viewer anxiety.

To get at that, Added Value asks roughly 150 participants, mainly online and one at a time, to imagine themselves using a certain product and write a story about it. "We ask people: Where would you be using the brand, describe who is with you, when it's happening, so they build up a vivid story pretty quickly," said Mark Weeks, exec VP of Added Value in North America, who developed EBC with the latest thinking from neuroscience and social psychology.

Mr. Weeks said EBC's research method is based on the notion that people consciously make decisions in split seconds, even though they may find it very difficult to tell you how happy they are at any moment in time. He gave as an example how a person would know quickly whether they wanted to go to a particular eatery when asked by a friend because they could anticipate whether it was too noisy or they liked the hubbub there.

Sound like nonsense?

The ad psychologist
Not to Michael Bentley, exec VP-global planning on the Ford account at JWT Team Detroit, Dearborn, Mich. The self-described "psychologist who happens to work in advertising" said JWT isn't using the sibling shop's research tool as much as it should.

Mr. Bentley, a psychologist who left the field 18 years ago, when he was in his mid-20s, would reveal specifics for only one instance in which he used EBC research for Ford. He wanted to know whether changing the music in an already-aired TV commercial for Ford's F-150 full-size pickup would generate different emotions among viewers.

Mr. Weeks said the ultimate goal in the Ford case was to test whether the F-150 spot left consumers feeling unsettled -- it came at a time when a debate was raging over Volkswagen of America's jarring "Safety Happens" ads in which unsuspecting VW drivers and their passengers were hit violently by other cars.

In the 2006 safety-related F-150 spot, the truck got crushed by a bulldozer (the ad wasn't all destruction -- at the end of the commercial, the truck was shown in a beauty shot at sunset). No matter which music was tried, however, the spot generated anxiety, said Mr. Bentley. Viewers who participated in the research got a good sense of what it would be like to be in the truck in the commercial.

JWT bolstered the research by adding MRI to see which parts of participants' brains were working as they watched the spot in real time.

Unintended consequence
The EBC and MRI research yielded the same findings: Participants reacted with fear and anxiety to the spot, with consumer anxiety reaching its highest point with the beauty shot. That wasn't the ad's intent, so the automaker pulled the F-150 commercial.

Mr. Weeks noted that his company's brand of research debunks some conventional wisdom. For example, Added Value tested an undisclosed product that the client believed fed into people's status -- but the research showed consumers were driven by excitement to buy the product. The client changed the ads to reflect that.

Mr. Weeks also recalled pitching EBC to a restaurant chain he declined to name. The chain's marketing chief believed customers came for the low prices, but Mr. Weeks pointed out that visits could have been promoted by many other factors, including the fact that it was a busy, happening place. The pitch was unsuccessful, however, since the would-be client would have had to change its long-used, traditional ad-testing metrics to reflect things such as recall.

Some clients just understand EBC right away, Mr. Weeks said. "With other people, it takes forever."
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