Tag Archives: Commercial

Can We Sense The Extremisms In Our Own Culture?

We are what we become used to. Having become used to something, it is taken for granted. Then we don’t notice it any more.

All cultures have extremisms; that’s what makes them cultures*. A perfectly balanced culture would be, by definition, boring. There could be no drama. Who would caonvene such a culture? Not human beings, certainly.

In the Cheyenne culture, courage and leadership are cultivated to the point that the individual is expected to stand against authority. This is their rite of passage. What is ours?

In what way is our culture extreme?


This is interactive; you can answer the question for yourself.

Rather than tell you what my view is, let me give you a clue. See if you can guess it – or better yet, see what you get when you cogitate the following riddle.

When and why did it become acceptable for there to be a ‘bug” – the channel’s logo – and sometimes text promoting other programs – over our TV shows?

What does that tell you about what (one of) our culture’s extremism(s) is?

What I get is that ours is such a mercantile culture, everything has to have a brand on it. We get branded as if with an iron when we pay to buy clothing that advertises some brand we may or may not care about. We should charge on a CPM basis. Finally we had to put the brand on the TV screen to stay there forever and only be relieved by commercials. This may increase commercial effectiveness and reduce program effectiveness accordingly.

Seriously, would Hollywood put a bug over their movies? Even in this mercantile culture, cinema remembers its roots, that in drama one wants to immerse and suspend disbelief, become the protagonist. The bug is a rude interruption to the self-pretend and that bubble bursts or never forms. So we watch to some measurable degree less immersed than we would have been years ago.

For non-drama programming, the bug is to some extent less intrusive.

Biometrics should be easily able to detect this difference.

First Neuroscience Research Company to Submit Validation to BillHarveyBlog.com:


What makes N-I different from all other suppliers is SST: Steady State Topography, the company’s own method being used worldwide today in cognitive neuroscience but in advertising research only by N-I. SST is a measure of neural processing speed at specific sites corresponding to parts of the brain, and metrics are calculated by indexing certain key relationships across sites – such as the SST relationship between left and right prefrontal cortexes, revealing approach-avoidance.

Because commercials involve split-second action, the otherwise superb fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery – similar to the MRIs we get taken of us for medical purposes) technique is too slow to capture changes occurring in response to these fast-changing stimuli, leaving as choices only EEG and SST. EEG uses electrodes the same as SST but is capturing different information – not neural processing speed but the size or magnitude of various EEG components such as alpha activity. These give different information.

For one thing, EEG is a noisy signal. Its low signal-to-noise ratio requires testing by repeating the commercial and then averaging results, ignoring the fact that what one then has is no longer the effect of one exposure. Surprise is no longer present in the repetitions. In Herb Krugman’s terms (Herb is a researcher famed for his work in advertising frequency), the subject after the first exposure is no longer asking What is that, but is now asking, What of it?

SST has a far higher signal-to-noise ratio than EEG so one picture is all the researchers need. The high resolution low noise signal is also obviously ideal in terms of research accuracy while remaining insensitive to factors that can affect EEG such as head movements, muscle tension, blinks and eye movements.

At last year’s ARF Audience Measurement Symposium 5.0, I was serving on the ARF Program Committee and was selected to chair the session on Neuroscience.  Burt Manning, former Chairman/CEO of J. Walter Thompson and one of the industry’s great copywriters and thinkers, had introduced me to Dr. Richard Silberstein, founder/CEO of Neuro-Insight and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Swinburne University in Melbourne. I invited Dr. Silberstein along with Innerscope’s Carl Marci, Sands Research’s Steve Sands, and CBS’s David Poltrack to become the neuroscience plenary panel for that symposium, moderated by Ameritest’s Chuck Young.

During that lively panel the neuroscientists all presented slides and Dr. Silberstein showed three case studies validating SST against sales, online traffic and correct product recall (financial services) respectively. In the most relevant sales case (Bird’s Eye frozen fish), the SST research suggested that a split-second change at a single point during the commercial caused a 130% increase in actual sales ROI.

Based on the extensive scientific validation evidence sent to me by N-I, and the cases shared at ARF last year, I would be interested as a researcher in using SST to help refine nearly-finished commercials before using them on air.

I hope more copy testers will come forward and send me your piles of evidence too, which I will give equal space here.

Best to all,


*Here’s one definition of “cultures” from Wikipedia: the distinct ways that people living in different parts of the world classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively. I am characterizing “distinct” as “extreme”.

Where Will Neuroscience Make Its Greatest Contribution to Advertising?

At the recent Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) Re:THINK 2011 conference, ARF reported the results of its study of nine different suppliers’ tests of the same commercials. All nine suppliers utilized their own approach to the measurement of involuntary psychophysiological response to stimuli.

Later that day, two other suppliers who had decided against participation were probably patting themselves on the back for staying out of the study. Why? Because the report had the result of (slightly) dialing back what had been the industry’s excitement about these new tools. The general picture painted was: (1) there is still a lot of work to be done; (2) at least some of the suppliers had not done their homework to become better informed about the test campaigns themselves; and (3) counter to expectation, these practitioners in general appeared to be less rather than more scientific than the existing state of the art in copy testing.

The folks at ARF certainly didn’t set out to pour cold water – they went into this with high enthusiasm about the promise of neuroscience for advertising. What happened?

Perhaps the problem was that the ARF, in order to gain cooperation, promised not to identify the pros/cons of individual suppliers. This protocol had worked well for the Council on Research Excellence (CRE) in their study of set top box (STB) data/analysis suppliers last year, which probably would not have gained enough cooperation to go forward otherwise.

Now the learning experience for industry leadership is that composite supplier descriptions/evaluations is a technique that must be carefully adapted on a case-by- case basis. In fact, the key difference between the two studies is that CRE did not cross the line from description into evaluation, whereas ARF did cross that line.

Possibly this was because the STB data analysis companies were willing to disclose techniques more so than were the neuroscientists. Perhaps ARF felt there would be nothing to report without evaluation, since in-depth technique description was not available. (Although I know of one supplier than provided 40 pages of such documentation.)

Today’s blog posting is motivated by the desire to see no slowdown in the development of the neuroscience field for the advertising industry and in general. Some years ago we did some advertising neuroscience of our own in company with Dr. Richard Davidson, today one of the most respected and quoted neuroscientists in the world, and Dr. Daniel Goleman, best known for his best-selling book series on emotional intelligence, a term he coined. That work convinced this writer that neuroscience can be of great value in advertising and media.

For example, in the research Drs. Richardson, Goleman and I conducted, we succeeded in using neuroscience to solve a conundrum that had baffled a leading drug company for years:

One of their big-spending TV over-the-counter brands had run a commercial years earlier that rang the bell so strongly there was no denying it had caused a substantial sales increase. For years, the agency tried to replicate the results with new commercials but never succeeded.

Neuroscience, however, was able to identify why the commercial was so effective, with such clarity that the agency was able to create a new commercial nearly as sales effective as its progenitor.

This case study is instructive in terms of how to derive greatest value from neuroscience in the context of advertising: instead of using biometrics to evaluate the power of a commercial, we used it to dissect the reason for a commercial’s power.

In other words, we used neuroscience diagnostically rather than evaluatively.

Instead of trying to answer the question “How well does it work?” we set out to answer a different question, “how (or why) does it work?”

Which is not to say that neuroscience cannot be used both ways, just that it’s possible the greatest increase in knowledge might come diagnostically. This is at least something worth looking into.

In the case just described, part of how the commercial worked is that it created the brain signature of the pain state in the viewer. By then segueing to a shot of the product package and the use of the product ending with a pain-free actor, the commercial ended with removal of the pain signature in the viewer’s brain.

Hence the viewer when next in the real pain state would subconsciously remember the product that removed the pain state. Classic problem-solution at the involuntary level rather than at the rational level.

So what is the generalizable clue? The concept of brain signatures for more complex states.

What if we as an industry are able to become aware of the brain signatures of brand gratitude, brand affinity, persuasion, purchase intent – signatures that can be validated against the same person’s change in brand purchase behavior?

What if we can also learn the brain signatures of specific blocks to a commercial’s success, such as lack of comprehension, disbelief, and distrust?

Neuroscience commercial testers are using the concept of brain signatures, but many seem to be stopping at purely evaluative signatures such as attention, arousal, and approach/avoidance, rather than the more complex diagnostic signatures suggested above, which tell more about why a commercial is or is not working.

In the interest of perhaps making a modest contribution to industry knowledge, and to  supplement ARF’s composite report, we will provide a venue in upcoming blog postings for any interested neuro (and non-neuro) copy testers to communicate their validation work, which we will present with individual supplier identification and our own editorial commentary.


Briefly Observed News in the Media

  • On April 4, in an interview regarding Libya on Fox News, Dr. Henry Kissinger enunciated his recommended policy for US intervention in such situations. Because US resources are not infinite and are already overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, he proposed that the US only become involved in other countries that meet both of the following two criteria:

    • Humanitarian concerns e.g. people being killed by their own government
    • US national strategic interests
  • On April 5, the media reported that because of the situation in Japan, it is being considered that the evacuation zone for the Indian Point Nuclear Power facility in case of an emergency be expanded from ten miles to fifty miles – which would mean the necessity of evacuating New York City. (Need I say more?)
  • Also April 5, it was reported that Muammar Gaddafi is considering a deal to step down. Miraculously, he reached out to Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon, one American he trusted (we have written about the importance of trust before), who flew into Libya to meet with Gaddafi. Weldon is the American that Gaddafi had spent more time with than any other American. I have heard it said that one person does not matter, but obviously that is not always the case. In the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”


Best to all,


A-GRPs: Affinity Gross Rating Points

What if we found out that affinity was the most powerful communications effect translating into incremental sales dollars, even more powerful than reason-why or viewer-reward?

Let me back up a second and define what I’m talking about.

Affinity” is liking the brand. An ad that creates affinity — the feeling that “the brand is my friend” — is one type of communication. It works particularly well with true sponsorship (no hard sell ads), when the brand brings content that the viewer loves and is grateful to the brand for bringing. This can also be done in 30” and 60” form as in the great work of copywriter Nick Pisacane and Art Director Al Amato.

Reason-why” is when an ad appeals to reason and perhaps using demonstration, proves that the brand is superior to its competitors. Grey used to be noted for its work in this area. Bill Bernbach nailed this approach in the original breakaway Volkswagen ads.

Viewer-reward” (so named by great copywriter John Bergin) is when a commercial is fun to watch and produces liking for the commercial (maybe not so much for the brand). Phil Dusenberry was also famous for funny commercials that you could enjoy over and over. Pepsi was one brand that became identified with this style of commercial because of Phil and then Ted Sann, so that crossover to Affinity (true liking for the brand) was also occurring some of the time with these Pepsi ads.

These are three of the ways (creative strategies) — maybe not all the ways — that an ad can affect persuasion and sales.

Now that I’ve defined these terms, back to the point. What if Affinity — an ad’s creation of liking for the brand, the brand is my friend — turned out to be the most powerful driver of sales made by advertising today?

What evidence do we have for that hypothesis?

  • My work on True Sponsorship, which was published in the ARF Journal (see recent postings which also quote that 2006 paper).
  • The steady growth in Cause marketing. Brand Affinity is the cognitive/emotive channel through which Cause works. It is already over a billion dollars a year in the U.S. and very few papers have revealed how big an impact Cause has on sales. Cone Agency (won Strategic Agency of Year award in 2008) is exemplary in the work they do in Cause marketing and in building brand trust.
  • Brand distrust is the main factor working against all advertising, regardless of the creative strategy employed. I have been writing about the constant rise in brand distrust for, well, decades. This distrust is part of a greater distrust for government, everything and everybody, which has been growing for over 50 years — the era of conspiracy theory — and shows no signs of ending but rather keeps becoming more prevalent in our lives.  Since Brand Affinity is the opposite of Brand Distrust, this is one strong reason to form the hypothesis I am proposing.
  • Jim Spaeth, when running ARF not so long ago, pulled the industry together in a massive validation of all copy testing. The results surprised everyone including Jim and me, in finding that liking is right up there with persuasion as a factor in the success of commercials. In that case liking the commercial was the main point but was probably confabulated with some brand liking as well. (Note that the famous Piel’s ads which were widely liked had zero effect on sales; this was part of what led the industry to discount “liking” as having any importance in commercial testing — until Jim’s massive study just a few years ago.)
  • Joel Tucciarone reports the results of a study that found involvement to be more powerful than satisfaction in predicting brand loyalty. One of the key metrics within the Involvement score was high numbers on the semantic differential scale called “The Brand Is My Friend”.
  • Herb Krugman found that people made connections to brands, sometimes based on what they were experiencing during the time they took up with the brand; the number of such brand connections was found to be predictive of brand loyalty.
  • At ESOMAR a few years ago, then-P&G (today Medialinkllc) thought-leader and innovator Bernhard Glock said that P&G is interested not just in reaching consumers, but in touching their hearts.

Some people who like the commercial will also like the brand for having done it. More and more we have to learn how to increase this crossover. We also have to do studies to learn more about it.

On the Internet now, Facebook and many others are asking users to click on items they like, and are reporting how many people have already clicked that they liked it. This is a pool of information that can provide insights into Affinity and what makes it tick — and how and when it effects sales increases. Colligent  is doing the leading work in this area, measuring what 145,000,000 people say publicly they like in terms of over 37,000 brands, TV programs, etc. Colligent’s Chairman John Bess came out of P&G where he was a leader in the automation of a key research area; Sree Nagarajan is the computer genius who invented the cutting edge technique.

I for one see biometrics as a very promising area in general, and one which can shed important light into Affinity. Those insights will help enable us all to create ads and media vehicles for those ads (or true sponsorships without ads) and even branded entertainment apps which better create Brand Affinity.

Today, out of 100 people, about 4 are persuaded by the average ad, according to published ARS norms on persuasion. Of these 4 persuasion occasions, perhaps Brand Affinity caused 1 (or fewer), Reason-why perhaps caused 1, Commercial liking (viewer reward) caused 1, and maybe the 4th one was caused by sheer low-involvement reminder effect, priming the viewer to respond when cued by the package on the shelf.

The hypothesis espoused herein suggests that if we make commercials/environments creating more Brand Affinity, we can raise the average from 4 to 6, with half coming from the Brand Affinity strategy. This would not raise cost but would increase advertising effectiveness +50%.

Instead of promulgating empty impressions, the impressions would be payloaded with packets of Brand Affinity Persuasion — if we found that this moves the needle upward on sales.

We could add a Liking button on TV — something the ITV leaders such as Canoe and Brightline could implement.

We could even begin to count impressions this way. If we find that a commercial creates Brand Affinity in say 10% of those who see it, we can express that as A-GRPS or A-TRPs (Target Rating Points) by reducing the GRP or TRP by a factor of 10%. This would only make sense if we found that Brand Affinity translates almost directly into incremental sales creation — which hasn’t been established yet.

It looks like a promising direction for research to go in.

Best to all,