#IIeX Nonconscious Forum 2016: Politics, Emotion, and Technology

This year's IIeX Nonconscious Forums event was a 2-day jam-packed exploration of implicit measures and behavioral economics in the Consumer Neuroscience space.

Many of the talks touched either directly or indirectly on the surprise election of Donald Trump. Hosts Alex Hunt, President of Brainjucier, and Will Leach, Founder of TriggerPoint, both pointed to this election result as a call to action for those in the neuromarketing field—the polls got it wrong, and the need for implicit measures of voter preference has never been so clear.  We need to more accurately predict what people will actually do in the voting booth, not just record what they say they will do. This is a classic example of the divergence between explicit and implicit measures.

Kevin Keane, Co-Founder & CEO of Brainsights in Toronto, gave an election-related talk describing measures of voter brain activity during the final debate. They used EEG-measures of attention, emotional connection, and encoding to memory to quantify the persuasiveness of each candidate. Based on these measures, Trump had more moments of high persuasion, especially at the end when critical final impressions are formed.

Andrew Konya, Co-Founder and CEO of Remesh Inc. gave an impressive talk on machine learning measures of natural language related to the election. He explained how his team used machine learning to create a 300-dimensional concept space to parse the natural language of 1 billion Goggle News articles. Once this feat was accomplished, they fed the output into a neural network and trained it to detect key attributes. The result? They created a means to rapidly capture, code, and organize opinions of respondents participating in online, open-ended natural language conversations. When they applied this technology to conversations about the election, they showed that participants rated Trump substantially higher than Clinton for authenticity because of his “blunt honest” style. Powerful stuff.

John Kenny, from FCB, talked about the evolution of Behavioral Economics and Marketing. His presentation was a good primer for anyone interested in understanding what Behavioral Economics is all about, and he also recommended a number of helpful books on the subject.

Dr. Andrew Baron, Associate Professor of Psychology at UBC and advisor to Olson Zaltman, offered up a generous helping of skepticism regarding neuromarketing claims, and used his expertise in crafting IATs (Implicit Association Tests) to remind everyone present about the importance of implementing this test correctly.

LRW’s Dr. Collette Eccleston gave an interesting talk that spoke to how our world has become more complicated, even as our brains have basically stayed the same, with a focus on the essential human needs of Belonging, Appeal, Security, and Exploration.

Rod Connors, Co-Founder of System1 Creative Agency, gave a memorable talk on creating powerful ads that impact people at a System 1 level. He showed examples of video ads that forgo attempts to make claims or highlight the benefits of a product, and instead go for a gut-level emotional reaction. He also made suggestions for changing how creative briefs are developed, to focus more on the raw emotionality that impacts System 1 processing the most.

Dan Morris, President of PreTesting Group, gave an interesting talk where he showed videos demonstrating the use of saccadic technology, which measures vibrations in saccades to not only show where people are looking, but also measure their level of engagement. His co-presenter Nikkia Reveillac from Colgate-Palmolive went on to demonstrate how the technology revealed the negative impact that “visual vampires” can have, e.g., an ad featuring celebrity Kelly Ripa actually drew the focus away from the Colgate brand, reducing its overall effectiveness. Once these effects are measured, they can be easily remedied with improved brand placement.

Drs. Aaron Reid & Kristina Zosul of Sentient gave a stimulating presentation on their use of Sentient’s trademark primed-IAT to measure how Smirnoff’s famous “Deaf Dancer” video ad can shift brand preference, at least in the short term. This was followed by Elissa Moses from Ipsos, who explained how giving shoppers a flower can have a positive impact on their mood and enhance their shopping experience.

I enjoyed LRW’s Jason Brooks presentation on the use of virtual reality. He showed some exciting new applications of VR technology, including the use of VR to reduce stress for hospital patients recovering from surgery. Instead of lying on a stiff bed in a sterile hospital environment, they could experience relaxing on a beach by a virtual ocean. Similarly, he explained how VR was being used to address the issue of racial bias among police, including the ability to give a white police officer the experience of being a black man being pulled over by the law. It seemed a bit of a stretch to believe that VR could be so powerful, but I soon became converted once I tested out the VR headsets that LRW had on-hand at their booth. Now it seems clear to me that VR technology has the potential to radically impact our society, including teaching empathy through direct experience, and many more as-yet unexplored implementations.

Another notable talk was given by Mikey Renan, the Head of Business Operations at Sense360. Do you use Location Services on your smart phone? If you do, then you might be an unwitting participant in one of their studies that use anonymized location services data. He shared an example of a study they did for Home Depot which analyzed location services data to identify building contractors (defined as anyone who visited a hardware store multiple times per week) and determine how proximity to a hardware store influenced the choice of which store to visit. Bottom line: contractors were willing to drive farther to go to Home Depot instead of Lowes.

In addition to these individual presentations, there were several client-side panels, including one hosted by Merchant Mechanics CEO Matthew Tullman, and featuring Gretchen Gscheidle of Herman Miller, Douglas Healy of PepsiCo, and Rosie Balk of Balk Group LLC. Their wide-ranging discussion delved into several relevant themes for the supplier-side, including the need to demonstrate how work will provide something better than what has come before. All in all, it was a productive two days featuring some of the best-of-the-best in the Consumer Neuroscience space. I enjoyed meeting other people in the field and also learned a lot from both the presentations and the informal conversations that took place. Are you interested in diving into the neuromarketing space? Then meet me at next year’s Insight Innovation Exchange Forums.

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