Nielsen Buys Neuromarketing Research Company Innerscope

Ratings Giant Wants to Get Inside Your Head

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In a bid to further hack its way into the consumer psyche, Nielsen has completed its acquisition of the Boston-based neuroscience firm Innerscope Research.

Founded in 2006 by neuroscientist Dr. Carl Marci and MIT alum Brian Levine, Innerscope uses biometrics such as brain scans and galvanic skin response to measure subconscious emotional responses to media and marketing.

By monitoring a subject's heart rate, skin conductance and neural activity in certain key areas of the brain -- as the cradle of memory formation, the hippocampus is obviously of keen interest, as are the nodes that regulate emotion and identity -- Innerscope says it can provide marketers with unique insights into the complex interrelation between consumers and content.

Hypothetically, the act of (virtually) cracking open the skull and exposing the subconscious should go a long way toward allowing marketers to gain a better understanding of how their creative "works" on the consumer psyche. From there, it's all a matter of using that information to develop ads that are more engaging, more engrossing and more effective.

"In an increasingly cluttered media landscape, we give our clients the insights to allow them to break through," Dr. Marci said, calling Nielsen's acquisition of Innerscope an inflection point for neuroscience-based media research.

Financial terms were not disclosed. This marks Nielsen's second foray into acquiring neuroscience assets; the company bought the global marketing research firm NeuroFocus outright in 2011, three years after it made its initial investment in the company.

Nielsen will now merge Innerscope with NeuroFocus. Dr. Marci will serve as the chief neuroscientist of the newly branded unit, which will now be known as Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience.

"Putting the two units together creates a scale in consumer neuroscience that is fairly unmatched," said Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience President Joe Willke.

The combined operation is also examining consumer consumption patterns and the interrelationship between content and media platforms, he said. One recent study measured the frequency with which viewers shifted their focus from a standard TV set to a personal device such as a tablet or smartphone. More specifically, the researchers were looking to capture the "head snap" moment, that instantaneous shift back from the little screen to the big screen.

Other ongoing studies include an examination of ad retention as a function of duration and the host media platform and a multigenerational analysis of multitasking. Hint: The older you are, the more terrible you are at doing two things at once.

While Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience isn't able to directly observe how viewing the "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" trailer floods the synapses of a viewer's amygdala with dopamine -- that sort of thing would be prohibitively expensive and insanely invasive -- it argues that the peripheral responses are a perfectly valid proxy. And media companies and consumer brands alike are buying in; among Innerscope's client roster are Turner Broadcasting, Procter & Gamble and the Campbell Soup Company.

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