Don't look now, but Ogilvy is eyeballing you

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Did you just skip over that byline? If so, Ogilvy would know.

Despite the obvious benefits of being able to work out exactly what portion of an ad consumers are looking at, agencies have long been dismissive of the eye-movement tracking devices that have existed in various forms since the 1970s. But now new technologies, as well as increased demand for measuring results, are leading some agencies to take another look at the practice of eye-tracking.

WPP Group's OgilvyOne recently struck a deal with a Belmont, Calif.-based Eyetools to test e-mail marketing for a client list that includes IBM, American Express and Cisco. A camera embedded in the frame of computer monitors-visible only as a piece of black plastic-allows it to determine what components of e-mails test subjects are really seeing and what they're ignoring. The eye movement patterns are then depicted in a heat map or diagram that show how eyes moved across the e-mail.

The company's founder and chief technology officer, Greg Edwards, said Eyetools' selling point is that it has automated the analysis of the focus group tests so that results are available within a couple of days, and the process is cheap enough that "most people pay with a credit card. "

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One of e-mail marketing's benefits is its low cost, a key factor in OgilvyOne's decision to sign on with Eyetools. Another temptation to try the device was a testing environment that is designed to replicate a home or office, a far cry from some of the less-than-natural settings in which such research was done in the past. Predecessors of the eye-tracking technology used headgear, goggles or even experiments with the science of "pupilmetrics," which involved filming people who were strapped into chairs.

For many of these services, the analysis involved unwieldy amounts of data, presented in long logs. Eyetools' heat map reduces the results to a single diagram. The research, which is married with market testing of customers from client databases, has already yielded some surprises for OgilvyOne staffers. They've found, for instance, that the word "free" is often skipped and that the majority of readers see less than half of the copy.

"E-mail is one of the only disciplines where these small tactical elements build up into an impactful strategy," said Jeanniey Mullen, director of e-mail marketing at OgilvyOne. "Heat mapping allows us to take existing template designs and copy to optimize the layouts to improve results."

Eye-tracking is also used in cognitive science, psychology and medical research. In marketing circles, it's often been less popular with agencies than marketers, said Lee Weinblatt, CEO of PreTesting Co., Tenafly, N.J. He said that when his prior company Perception Research started in 1972, "We almost went bankrupt because we tried to sell to agencies."

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