5 Marketing Lessons from Eye tracking

Posted by Lucy Halliday On May 13, 2014

The potential for eye tracking research has exploded in the last ten to fifteen years. My first eye tracker system had a control unit that was the size of a fridge and took two people to lift. My desk had to be specially reinforced, and I lived in fear of accidentally being crushed by the weight of it. Fast-forward to 2014 and eye trackers can fit in the palm of your hand. These days, eye tracking systems are so convenient to operate, easy to use and have no end to their application and ability to uncover significant insights.

Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned:

1. Eye tracking metrics are invaluable

While ‘attracting eye balls’ is a commonly used term in the industry, only recently has actually measuring where people look become a standard for testing and optimising advertising. At a macro level, eye tracking can measure which formats attract and sustain attention by measuring the number of times something is looked at and for how long.

However, uptake among the different industries remains mixed. For example, the Starch measurement system for magazines includes metrics such as ‘Noted’, ‘Read most’ and ‘Associated’, responses are determined by asking respondents if they remember looking at an ad – not by measuring where they actually look.

Meanwhile, the Outdoor Media Association is particularly progressive and has been using eye tracking to create a visibility index as part of the MOVE measurement system.

For digital, there is a clear case for using eye tracking to complement page impressions and clickthrough rates. Just because an ad wasn’t clicked doesn’t mean it wasn’t viewed.

With mobile eye tracking devices, you can escape the lab and conduct eye tracking in the real world. So you can record virtually anything. From where shoppers look, to the effectiveness of different out of home formats, to how people consume TV and digital in the comfort of their own homes.

2) Half a second is a long time in eye tracking

Our eyes do things pretty quickly. When you ‘fixate’ something, you typically do so very briefly – often for just a few hundred milliseconds.

Did you know that when we move our eyes, our vision actually switches off? It’s only when your eyes fixate something that we actual ‘see’. While you experience a smooth stream of vision, you are, in fact, taking a series of brief snapshot fixations.

That’s why on first glance, eye tracking scores can appear underwhelming. Compare “My ad attracts an average dwell time of half a second?” to “My ad scored half a million page hits!” However, these brief fixations are enough for you to process your environment, and half a second of viewing might be all that is required to read and take in the message from an ad.

The exciting part is that we are now able to work out how long people can look at ads in different environments and design ads accordingly to take advantage of this.

3) Creative is still king

Rather than viewing materials like robots, there are a number of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ factors that determine how you view scenes at any time.

Of course creative execution clearly has a huge effect on our reading patterns and the extent to which individual ads breakthrough.

That said, with quantitative eye tracking studies it is possible to establish playbooks for creative within different scenarios. At a micro level, eye tracking reveals which characteristics of an ad, product pack or point of sale signage work best. By analysing a range of creative approaches, they can be ranked for effectiveness and it is possible to establish which components are contributing to this.

4) Context is also king

Aside from the creative execution, context has a huge bearing on whether an ad is looked at or not
For example, the point at which you begin to read will make a difference, when you turn a page in a magazine or clickthrough digital content. You don’t necessarily start again at the top-left of the page, but often continue from where you left off on the previous page. This visual flow strongly influences whether an ad is noticed or not.

When you consider outdoor advertising, whether you are the driver or a passenger and traffic conditions will strongly influence how often and for how long you look at ads.
Purpose is equally important. People who are reading the news are far less likely to view ads than those shopping online.

Environment also needs to be taken in to consideration. The extent to which an ad stands out depends on the features it shares with its neighbours.

5) Ads that aren’t looked at can still be effective

Your visual attention is selective. Without going into the technicalities, it filters the mass of information you are bombarded with and allows you to deal with one or a few things at a time. Indeed, there are some compelling examples of what is called ‘inattentional blindness’ where unless we focus our attention on something we are we are blind to it, even though we can ‘see’ it.

However, in more recent research, there is compelling evidence that this is not always the case.

For example, some radiologists are able to tell whether an anomaly is present in an x-ray from a fixation that lasts a mere 200 milliseconds! Expert radiologists will often report the sensation of “knowing” that a particular image contains a lesion before they are able to locate it. Experts contend that a second, nonselective visual pathway extracts information from global properties – to form the ‘gist’ of a scene.

Why is this relevant to you in marketing?

If we know that in a certain environment an ad is likely to attract a glance or appear more peripherally, you can design it in such a way to take advantage of the visual system and maximise how it conveys gist and brand association.

Peter Brawn is the founder of eye tracking company, eyetracker, and Gateway Research which specialises in integrated biometric and neuroscience technologies. He has spent the last 15 years pioneering eye tracking research projects for a who’s who of corporations and consumer brands. Over this time he has developed a wealth of knowledge that is peerless in Australia.

Lucy Halliday