More Proof That Focus Groups Are Bunk

Evan Tishuk of Orange Coat pointed us to this Seed Magazine article which looks at the Super Bowl spots consumers truly liked, not the one they said they liked.

UCLA neuropsychiatry researcher, Marco Iacoboni, scanned the brains of people while they watched commercials from Super Bowl XL and observed their neural activity. Iacoboni and his team focused on activity in mirror neurons, which are associated with social behaviors such as imitation and empathy.
“Mirror neurons, we believe, are a key neural system for social behavior.” Iacoboni said.
Iacoboni said one subject exemplified the discontinuity between the commercials people said they liked and those they neurally responded to. The women in question was unable to mask her innate inclination toward enjoying ads whose message went against her conscious and vocal political correctness.
“She came out of the scanner and she said all the right things, the things that you expected to hear from her,” he said. “For instance, she didn’t like any of those commercials in which females are treated mostly as objects of sexual desire.
“But guess what? Her mirror neural regions were firing out like crazy when she saw those.”
Inversely, the same subject didn’t get a rise out of Dove’s campaign for self-esteem.
“That ad is really nice because it had a very important social message: You don’t have to be beautiful to be successful, and you don’t have to be insecure if you’re not beautiful,” Iacoboni said. “And she loved that one, and everybody loved it. We loved it, too. But guess what? Her brain didn’t react too much to that ad. All the regions that we think are important for social behavior, the reward system, mirror neuron system, they really didn’t show a strong response to that ad.”

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.