Capita taps brain waves to study Web ads' potency

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Web advertisers can see if banner ads connect with users by connecting to users' brains.

Employing brain wave-tracking technology licensed from NASA, Capita Research Group will measure how effective banners are in causing an emotional response in Web users, and how that translates into click-throughs and brand recall.

The Blue Bell, Pa., researcher claims its new Engagement Index service will help agencies, marketers, ad networks and Web sites better determine just how effective their banners are by getting into the minds of consumers.

MEASURING AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT

"We can determine where engagement [with an ad] is high and low, what kind of media should be bought and what sites work the best [for banners]," said Capita President-CEO David Hunter. "We can measure if banner creative is working in spite of whether someone clicked through."

The system that Capita uses collects electrical signals through a headset five times per second from the area of the brain where memory is formed. The signals are converted into a graph that can be matched against TV or banner creative. The technology can test each ad independently or compare it with other banners.

Capita, which officially introduced the Engagement Index in January, is pushing the offering through in-house-created direct mail. It has been talking with major portals and ad networks, such as DoubleClick, to develop ways to help them measure online ads' effectiveness. Late last year, Capita put the technology to the test for US Interactive, King of Prussia, Pa.

"We gave them general banner ads for one of our clients already tested in the market, so I knew which ones did really well and which did terrible," said Nick Centofante, media director, at US Interactive, who did not disclose the clients. "They put creative through testing process and, as it turned out, the results were very similar to the actual results that happened. Based on our test with Capita, we plan to use their technology to help clients."

DoubleClick, however, is less certain that Capita's technology is ready for the big leagues.

"They are going in the right direction, but the technology probably has to advance and I'd like to see some demonstrated evidence before we look into testing it," said Ethan Rapp, research manager at DoubleClick.

Capita charges $250 to $500 to test one banner ad, with the fee dropping as more banners are tested.

COSTLY FOR LONE CAMPAIGN

Mr. Rapp said that cost could be prohibitive for individual banner campaigns, but may hold more promise when used to evaluate a number of campaigns.

"The concept is very promising because we need to understand how people view these banners, and getting inside their head is an interesting idea," Mr. Rapp said. "It needs to evolve a bit before execution. . . . If it helps our clients to better understand the effectiveness of their advertising, we are interested in it."

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