Applied Consumer Neuroscience Can Help Optimize Political Communications

In the world of consumer package goods, media, financial services and healthcare, sophisticated tools are used to develop messages, positioning statements and to test creative concepts.

My experience testing advertising and communications in the political world is that most of these tools which are used by corporate marketers are not implemented in the campaign world. It appears that political consultants often go by intuition rather than using the scientific communications research tools used by leading marketers.

A breakthrough in studying media, communications, and messaging is the use of tools to measure the subconscious response to words, phrases and graphics that represent branding and positioning. While surveys, focus groups and interviews help determine how people say they feel about messages and communications, they often can’t express why they feel as they say they do. Asking a research participant why or what caused him or her to say that they felt positive or negative after viewing an advertisement usually results in the individual saying “I’m not sure, it just made me feel good”. Using psychophysiological measurements integrated with eye tracking, it is possible to identify where someone is looking in an ad and determine how they felt about the specific creative elements that they were viewing.

The ability to identify what caused people to be attentive, aroused and to have a positive or negative emotion allows the creative group to optimize a communication to a particular voter segment in any number of ways including the visual appeal and the power of a particular phrase or message.

In one of the campaigns we were involved in, we were requested to do online testing of advertisements appealing to specific voter segments in targeted states. The tool we used was an online survey which had a metric designed to measure the impact of political advertisements. A flaw related to using tests that rely on a metric is that it does not represent the real life experience of viewing advertisements.
In these studies, a subject is asked to view an advertisement from beginning to end and indicate how well it communicated, how convincing it was and how it made them feel, etc.

But this is not a realistic exercise. People passively receive a communication on TV or radio and are not required to view it from beginning to end, as instructed in an on-line concept test. Getting a high score on a metric for a study in which a responder is forced to watch an ad from beginning to end eliminates the possibility that the subject would have turned the ad off before completely viewing it. By combining traditional advertising testing with the use of psychophysiological tools, a researcher can determine where interest was lost – specifically, where an emotion became positive or negative – and whether an individual was aroused or bored after attending to a portion of the advertisement.

Corporate marketers are using applied consumer neuroscience to determine the impact of the subconscious to optimize communications. These are the subconscious responses to people, places or things that influence the conscious decision-making process. Without understanding the subconscious response to an advertisement, it cannot be fully evaluated to determine the likelihood it communicated your message successfully or as optimally as possible.

There is a reason why most major corporate marketers use both applied consumer neuroscience and traditional research to optimize communications. The reason is that understanding the subconscious response to a message is essential to understanding why people say what they do.