Viacom/MTV Uses Neuromarketing to research ads in video games [Annals of Neuromarketing]

As we explained last month in our congressional testimony on behavioral targeting and advertising, the growing reliance on neuroscience-related techniques to design digital marketing messages is a serious policy issue.  Here’s an excerpt from a recent Viacom/MTV press release on a study it commissioned:

Using breakthrough biometric monitoring, a new study by MTV Networks has uncovered the most effective strategies for marketers to reach casual gamers.  The study, “Game Plan: Strategies for Marketing through Casual Games,” found that casual games command 99 percent focused attention from consumers.  By tracking respondents’ hand sweat, heart rate, respiration, movement patterns and visual attention during game play, the research yielded a clear road map for harnessing that engagement through targeted ad formats, lengths and integrations.

“Casual gaming continues to grow as a dominant online activity, and marketers have more opportunities than ever to connect with these highly engaged consumers from nearly every demo,” said Nada Stirratt, Executive Vice President of Digital Advertising, MTV Networks.  “This study provides a blueprint on how to leverage casual games for every marketing objective from driving awareness to increasing purchase intent to building a brand.”

The study was presented today to marketers and media buyers at MTV Networks headquarters in New York.   The research revealed a number of strategies for marketers looking to connect with casual gamers:

o     Get Ahead of the Action: Video placed before action games is among the most effective use of online video, commanding up to 85 percent focused attention.
o     Shorter is Better: A fifteen second pre-roll ad before a game commands 85 percent focused attention for the duration of the ad. Significantly, longer pre-rolls can be damaging, as aided recall for these drops by more than half.
o     Get in the Game: Brand integrations, or advergames, are best for games requiring higher levels of mental processing and focused attention. In games where brands achieved fifteen seconds or more of focused attention, aided recall approached 80 percent.
o     Anticipation = Opportunity: Consumer anticipation is a powerful opportunity — the load screen, menu pages and reward screens in games represent ideal placements for brand messaging, as gamers have the highest level of cognitive processing while waiting for their game to begin.

“Game Plan” tracked eye and biometric measures of respondents as they engaged in four online gaming experiences. These included a combination of branded and unbranded games, as well as video and display advertising around the games.  Biometric signals were integrated with data obtained from eye trackers, which measured players’ visual attention and pupillary response

source: Breakthrough Biometric Research Uncovers the Most Effective Advertising Strategies for Connecting with Casual Gamers: New MTV Networks Study Reveals The “Game Plan” For Casual Gaming Advertising.  June 10, 2009

Online Consumers Require Real Privacy Safeguards, Not the Digital Fox [AAAA, ANA, BBB, DMA & IAB] in Charge of the Data Hen House

The self-regulatory proposals released today [2 July 2009]  by five marketing industry trade and lobby groups are way too little and far too late. This move by the online ad industry is an attempt, of course, to quell the growing bi-partisan calls in Congress to enact meaningful digital privacy and consumer protection laws. It’s also designed to assuage a reawakened Federal Trade Commission–whose new chair, Jon Leibowitz, recently appointed one the country’s most distinguished consumer advocates and legal scholars to direct its Bureau of Consumer Protection (David Vladeck). The principles are inadequate, even beyond their self-regulatory approach that condones, in effect, the “corporate fox guarding the digital data henhouse.” Effective government regulation is required to protect consumers. We should have learned a painful lesson by now with the failure of the financial industry to oversee itself. The reckless activities of the financial sector—made possible by a deregulatory, hands-off government policy–directly led to the current financial catastrophe. As more of our transactions and daily activities are conducted online, including those involving financial and health issues–through PCs, mobile phones, social networks, and the like–it is critical that the first principle be to ensure the basic protection of consumer privacy. Self-dealing “principles” concocted by online marketers simply won’t provide the level of protection consumers really require.

The industry appears to have embraced a definition of behavioral targeting and profiling that is at odds with how the practice actually works. Before any data is collected from consumers, they need to be candidly informed about the process–such as the creation and evolution of their profile; how tracking and data gathering occurs site to site; what data can be added to their profile from outside databases; the role that data targeting plays on so-called first-party websites, etc. In addition, the highest possible consumer safeguards are necessary when financial and health data are involved. Under the loosey-goosey trade industry principles, however, only “certain health and financial data” are to be treated as a “sensitive” category. This would permit widespread data collection involving personal information regarding our health and financial concerns. The new principles, moreover, fail to protect the privacy of teenagers; nor do they seriously address children’s privacy. (I was one of the two people that led the campaign to enact the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act).

The failure to develop adequate safeguards for sensitive consumer information illustrates, I believe, the inability of the ad marketing groups to seriously address online privacy. The so-called “notice and choice” approach embraced by the industry has failed. More links to better-written privacy statements don’t address the central problem: the collection of more and more user data for profiling and targeting purposes. There needs to be quick Congressional action placing limits on the collection, use and retention of consumer data; opt-in control over profile information; and the creation of a meaningful sensitive data category. Consumer and privacy groups intend to work with Congress to ensure that individuals don’t face additional losses due to unfair online marketing practices.

[press statement by the Center for Digital Democracy]

Microsoft uses brain research to improve ads in online games, including for Doritos [annals of neuromarketing]

excerpt:  “…in-game ads have begun to move out of the “experimental buy” bucket and into the media plan because advertisers now realize that ads in games produce results…Measurement is very important…Earlier this week, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released new in-game advertising guidelines for public comment to establish a common methodology for counting impressions and to simplify the process of buying and selling in-game advertising… Microsoft’s advertising arm also has been involved in a study that examines the emotional reactions consumers have toward advertising campaigns in and around video games. The first phase of the study — conducted with EmSense, a neuroscience company — compares the findings with similar results from television commercials. The companies discovered that the interactive elements in the video game ad campaigns evoke stronger emotional connections with consumers and more positive emotional associations with the brands.

EmSense analyzed several different advertising campaigns on Xbox 360 games, Xbox Live and MSN Games. Some brands involved in the study include Doritos, Kia, Sprint, Hyundai and Microsoft.

In-Game Ads In The Ad Game.  Laurie Sullivan.  Online Media Daily.  June 16, 2009

PS:  Among the in-game ad categories [excerpt] proposed by the IAB include (and I kid you not!): Valid Ad Impression:
The threshold for a valid Ad Impression is a cumulative exposure to an ad of ten (10) seconds.   An In-Game Measurement Organization may accumulate ad exposures of shorter time lengths to achieve this Ad Impression threshold… Lighting
Only ads that are visible within the virtual game environment with sufficient lighting during darkness should be counted. Maximum Ad Angle Relative to Game Screen
The angle of the ad must be no greater than 55 degrees relative to the game screen.

MTV uses Neuroscience to Analyze Ads for Games: Examining “the optimal way of connecting to this audience when they’re that rabid and that engaged.”

excerpt:  “…MTVN  conducted a three-day study of more than 60 gamers at a biometrics lab in Las Vegas; they showed the players various ads and games, all while examining stats like heart rate, respiration, movement patterns and visual attention. Interestingly, they found that 15-second pre-rolls were the most effective way to garner a player’s “focused attention”—beating out 30-second spots, in-game display ads, and even overlays. Pre-roll ads commanded up to 85 percent focused attention, MTVN’s study found, meaning that the vast majority of the viewers paid full attention to the ads…“The question we wanted to answer was do ads need to be more disruptive to be effective?” said Jason Witt, GM for MTVN’s Digital Fusion ad unit. “We can always stick a bigger ad in front of somebody. And we found that you don’t have to be more disruptive, by and large. The proof is that 15-second pre-rolls were the most effective.” The study also found that game ads had 8x higher unaided brand awareness over online display ads in general, and fueled a 12x higher intent to purchase…So for us, the goal is to see what’s the optimal way of connecting to this audience when they’re that rabid and that engaged.” 

source:  Need To Reach Casual Gamers? MTV Says 15-Second Pre-Rolls Work Best.  David Kaplan.  June 10, 2009.

IAB UK’s “Good Practice Principles” on Behavioural Targeting: Alice in Wonderland Meets Online Data Collection

Last week in Brussels at a EU Consumers Summit, Google and other interactive ad companies pointed to the new Interactive Advertising Bureau/UK “Good Practice Principles for online behavioural advertising” as a model for meaningful self-regulation.  The companies that have endorsed the principles include  AOL/Platform A, AudienceScience, Google, Microsoft Advertising, NebuAd, Phorm, Specific Media, Yahoo! SARL, and Wunderloop.   The message sent to EU regulators was, in essence, don’t really worry about threats to privacy from online profiling and behavioural targeting.  But a review of the Principles suggest that there is a serious lack of “truth in advertising” when it comes to being truly candid about data collection and interactive marketing.  These Principles are insufficient–and are really a political attempt to foreclose on meaningful consumer policy safeguards.

Indeed, when one examines the new online “consumer guide” which accompanies the Principles,  one has a kind of Alice in Wonderland moment.  That’s because instead of being candid about the real purpose of behavioral advertising–and the system of interactive marketing it is a part of–the IAB paints an unreal and deliberately cheery picture where data collection, profiling, tracking, and targeting are just harmless techniques designed to give you a better Internet experience.   UK consumers–and policymakers–deserve something more forthright.

First, the IAB conveniently ignores the context in which behavioural targeting is just one data collection technique.  As they know, online marketers are creating what they term a “media and marketing ecosystem.”  A truly honest “Good Practice Principles” would address all the principal ways online marketers target consumers.  That would include, as IAB/UK knows well, such approaches as social media marketing, in-game targeting, online video, neuromarketing, engagement, etc.  A real code would address issues related to the use of behavioural data targeting and other techniques when used for such areas as finance (mortgages, loans, credit cards); health products; and targeting adolescents.

The IAB/UK also fails to reconcile how it describes behavioural targeting to its members and what it says to consumers and policymakers.  For example, the group’s glossary defines behavioural targeting as:  “A form of online marketing that uses advertising technology to target web users based on their previous behaviour. Advertising creative and content can be tailored to be of more relevance to a particular user by capturing their previous decision making behaviour (eg: filling out preferences or visiting certain areas of a site frequently) and looking for patterns.“  But its new “Good Practice” consumer guide says that “Online behavioural advertising is a way of serving advertisements on the websites you visit and making them more relevant to you and your interests. Shared interests are grouped together based upon previous web browsing activity and web users are then served advertising which matches their shared interests. In this way, advertising can be made as relevant and useful as possible.”

Incredibly, the IAB/UK claims that “the information used for targeting adverts is not personal, in that it does not identify you – the user – in the real world. Data about your browsing activity is collected and analysed anonymously.”  Such an argument flies in the face of what the signatories of the “Good Practice Principles” really tell their online ad customers.  For example, Yahoo in the UK explains that its “acclaimed behavioural targeting tool allows advertisers to deliver specific targeted ads to consumers at the point of purchase.”  Yahoo has used behavioural targeting in the UK to help sell mortgages and other financial products.  Microsoft’s UK Ad Solutions tells customers it can provide a variety of behavioural targeting tools so it “can deliver messaging to the people who are actively looking to engage with what you’re offering…With Re-messaging we can narrow our audience by finding the people who have already visited you. It means we can ensure they always stay in touch and help create continual engagement with your brand…Profile Targeting can help you find the people you’re looking for by who they are, where they are and when you want to be seen by them.”  Time Warner’s Platform A/AOL says Through our Behavioural Network, we can target your most valuable visitors across our network, earning you additional revenues, or simply fulfil your own campaign obligations.  By establishing certain user traits or demographics within your audience, we are able to target those individuals with the most relevant advertising (tied into their common characteristics), or simply reach those same users in a different environment.”  Or Audience Science’s UK office that explains “While other behavioural targeting technologies simply track page visits, the AudienceScience platform analyzes multiple indicators of intent:

•  Which pages and sections they have visited

•  What static and dynamic content they have read

•  What they say about themselves in registration data

•  Which search terms they use

•  What IP data indicates about them, including geography, SIC code, Fortune 500 rank, specific Internet domains,   and more

Because AudienceScience processes so many indicators of intent, it enables you to create precisely targeted audience segments for advertisers.”  And Google, which knows that the UK is “arguably the most advanced online marketplace in the world” has carefully explained to its UK customers all the data they collect and make available for powerful online targeting.

The Notice, Choice and Education “Good Practice” scheme relies on an ineffective opt-out.  Instead of real disclosure and consumer/citizen control, we have a band-aid approach to privacy online.  The IAB also resorts to a disingenuous scare tactic when it suggests that without online marketing, the ability of the Internet to provide “content online for free” would be harmed.  No one has said there shouldn’t be advertising–what’s been said is that it must be done in a way which respects privacy, the citizen, and the consumer.   Clearly, the new IAB/UK code isn’t a model that can be relied on to protect the public.  UK regulators must play a more proactive role to ensure privacy and consumer welfare online is meaningfully protected.

UK Online Ad Lobby Group: “behavioural targeting is going to be the future of the internet.” [Annals of Behavioral Targeting]

The debate over behavioural targeting, profiling and interactive advertising is heating up in the European Union.  We just spoke at a EU event on the topic.  More later on that meeting (which featured Google, Microsoft, Nokia and others, all wearing their Brussels best).  Google and others pointed to a new code on behavioural targeting created by the UK’s Interactive Ad Bureau, which they suggest is a model (and is designed to foreclose on real privacy safeguards).  I will be writing about this code in the next post.  But here’s what the chairman of the IAB UK, Richard Eyre, said about protecting privacy online and the Internet’s future [via Brand Republic.  March 31, 2009]. Excerpts:

Richard Eyre, chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau, has said he accepts the European Union’s decision to investigate behavioural targeting as “logical” but hopes that the current self-regulatory process “will satisfy everyone”.

Eyre was responding to the EU’s decision to investigate behavioural targeting by online advertisers, in a move that could result in legislation that overrides the code recently introduced by the IAB with the support of Ofcom and search giants Google and Microsoft…Eyre said that he understood that the EU had to have a point of view on the issue because behavioural targeting is a new tool about which the general public is still forming its opinion. However he hopes the self-regulatory code on behavioural targeting recently introduced by the IAB will satisfy everyone. Eyre said: “It is very easy to dismiss the issues as an invasion of privacy but the fact is that behavioural targeting is going to be the future of the internet.”Eyre told ISBA’s annual conference recently that behavioural targeting would be a “game-changer” for advertisers.
PS:  As for Microsoft’s position on privacy, here’s an excerpt from a March 5, 2009 New Media Age story:  “Zuzanna Gierlinska, head of Microsoft Media Network, said, “It’s better that regulation comes from within the market rather than from government, which might not be fully aware of how behavioural targeting works.”  source:  “Industry unites to defend trust in online advertising.”   Suzanne Bearne.

Google and WPP Fund Neuromarketing Research for Digital Ads: Ethical Issues and the Need for Policymaker Scrutiny [with an update on the grants!]

The Wall Street Journal and other publications report that Google and ad giant WPP will announce today the $4.6 million grants it will award for academic research designed to “improve understanding and practices in online marketing, and to better understand the relationship between online and offline media.” Among the research efforts given funds are projects that will “analyze internet users’ surfing habits to determine their thinking styles, such as whether they are most influenced by verbal or visual messages or if they are more holistic or analytical, and how to tailor ads accordingly” and an “analysis into how online ads effect blood flow to different areas of the brain. This research would seek to show the role that emotions play in decision making.”   Academics from MIT, Stanford, and Harvard will receive funds, among others. (And for those of us concerned about the role online advertising and data collection is playing in China–and impacts human rights and environmental sustainability–one of the new grants will fund “how Chinese web users respond to different online-ad formats, such as display and search ads”).

As we will tell the European Commission at the end of the month, at a workshop they have organized to discuss interactive advertising and consumer protection, the evolving role of neuromarketing with online advertising raises a number of troubling concerns–and should trigger a serious policy review.   We have not yet seen a final list of the grantees.  But Google should be funding independent research that will honestly explore the impact and ethics of online marketing.  They should be ensuring that the ethical issues of online marketing–such as the concerns raised by their new behavioural profiling and targeting system–receive a honest scholarly review.

The growing controversy over the role pharmaceutical companies are playing with scholarly research on drugs, we think, has implications here.  We believe all the academic institutions receiving these grants must vet them to ensure they truly address the real impact online ad techniques have on individuals and society.

Update:  Google & WPP made the academic research announcement–eleven grants awarded.  Here are some to ponder–and raise questions:

*  “Targeting Ads to Match Individual Cognitive Styles: A Market Test”; Glen Urban, Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management;

*  “How do consumers determine what is relevant? A psychometric and neuroscientific study of online search and advertising effectiveness”; Antoine Bechara, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Department of Psychology/Brain & Creativity Institute, University of Southern California and Martin Reimann, Fellow, Department of Psychology/Brain & Creativity, University of Southern California;

*“Unpuzzling the Synergy of Display and Search Advertising:Insights from Data Mining of Chinese Internet Users”; Hairong Li, Department of Advertising, Public Relations, and Retailing, Michigan State University and Shuguang Zhao, Media Survey Lab, Tsinghua University;

*”Are Brand Attitudes Contagious? Consumer Response to Organic Search Trends”; Donna L. Hoffman, Professor, A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California Riverside and Thomas P. Novak, A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California Riverside;

*“Marketing on the Map: Visual Search and Consumer Decision Making”; Nicolas Lurie, Assistant Professor of Marketing, College of Management, Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Management and Sam Ransbotham, Assistant Professor of Information Systems, Carroll School of Management, Boston College.

UK Ad Leader: “Future of Advertising” will be the “Mapping” of our Brains

excerpt from The Guardian:  “Robin Wight…is president of the Engine Group, which encompasses 13 media businesses…the future for advertising isn’t just about building organisations; for Wight it is also about brain science. He is zealous, fanatical even, about the potential of mapping brains in greater detail and discovering what makes us tick. It is the “future of advertising – of everything”, he says…The theory of memes, Wight believes, is the most interesting idea of the past 50 years; and it helps to explain how ads that make an impact …

“It’s still controversial but in the future we’ll find little synaptic connections that represent the Guardian, BMW, all these brands. You put an electrode on someone’s head and say Jennifer Aniston, for example, and one neuron fires,” Wight says. “It took 50 years after genes were conceived of to find them in the body and it may take another 50 before we find memes – but we will find little clusters, bundles of connections that represent brands.”

If we could scientifically measure which adverts worked, he says, then there wouldn’t be any need for an “avalanche of annoying ads”… Scanning brains is no different from focus grouping, he believes – just more effective. “…

“Just imagine if you could pre-test an ad and you knew it would make people happy and it would be effective…You’d only be exposed to ads that engage with you – the products that fail won’t be offered. You’re not manipulating people, you’re just measuring which particular thing has an impact.”

‘It’s the future of advertising, of everything’.  Jo Adetunji.  Guardian.  February 23, 2009