Marketing and consumer neuroscience

One of the biggest myths in marketing is that you have to get conscious attention to get the message across. However, an interview with Kevin Keane from consumer neuroscience agency Brainsights in the IN CLEAR FOCUS podcast with presenter Adrian Tennant, explains that there is hidden value in passive response, and in understanding how consumers respond to advertising at a deep, unconscious level. In other words, it gives an unbiased view of marketing through neuroscience.

Kdo je Kevin Keane?

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Kevin Keane is a market research innovator, co-founder and CEO of Brainsights.

Brainsights, based in Toronto, Canada, uses neuroscience and biometric measurements to understand how consumers respond to advertising, at a subconscious level. Kevin and his team gain insights into brain activity, through special machines (EEG), and use this to assess consumers’ subconscious perceptions.

It uses the data collected to advise advertisers and media companies. They can use this knowledge to produce advertising that most consumers will not be prejudiced against, and that is also attractive and persuasive.

Neuroscience Answers New Questions

Brainsights pages usually have mainly research questions about why and how. Of course, the well-known quant and quaal methods answer similar questions, but neuroscience is particularly strong in three areas:

– fragmentation

– Understanding passive response

– unconscious response.

Fragmentation is extremely helpful for optimisation (e.g. shorter video commercials). It also helps to identify problems or specific experiences. The next thing is passive response. Advertising is usually optimised primarily on the basis of the immediate response that the advert allows. However, Brainsights has discovered a hidden value that can only really be found when measuring passive response. Like impression quality, it helps customers understand and optimise. Unconsciously and subconsciously. Neuroscience gets to the underlying motivations of the consumer. It is unbiased-no prejudice. These methods help them by understanding some of the problems they face with quant, qual and other methods, but don’t yet know how to solve them.

Data collection methods

Many people have the idea that when they hear about neuroscience and brain activity, they think of a loaded set-up. Kevin explains that they use to measure brain activity and the subconscious mind with an electroencephalogram (EEG). He describes it as a clock that monitors our physical activity but for our brain. They only measure and use data that is relevant to their clients. They value privacy and transparency in the ways they use this data. The data they collect helps them drive market demand for these neuro solutions forward.

Another method they use to help them collect data is eye tracking. From a biometric perspective, they observe what is happening at the millisecond level. They track where consumers look, what they focus on, how they process the data they see. Neuroscience, compared to traditional quant and qual methods, differs mainly in approach. Kevin said that the attention economics approach is not just about competing with other competitors, but with all the other things that would compete with your attention. They also explore emotional connections and also what kind of imprint it leaves on memory.


In the interview, they then touch on the issue of race. And what is the effectiveness of ads where black people are hired compared to white people. They found that there was no difference in effectiveness when they ran a non-white ad. However, they did see more interest from whites when black actors were hired.

Host Adrian and I also talk about audio and video, how they are on a comparable level when it comes to branding opportunities. They also touch on the historical aspect of audio. What is old is new again.

They also discussed Covid-19, which has had a significant impact on their company. Before the outbreak, customers used to come to their premises, but now it is different. They are actively looking for and researching new and better web solutions that are viable. The fact remains that understanding how to use EEG is still a challenge for people.

Source of inspiration

Kevin finds enjoyment, excitement and satisfaction in his work. This comes from his interest and understanding of people, their behaviour and their motivations. It was this interest and satisfaction that convinced him to go into consumer research and create Brainsights. In his work, he finds that there is a surge in evidence that our decisions are made at a subconscious level. Neuro marketing tools used to be made for big companies, but now they are making these tools accessible to smaller brands. From biases related to political marketing decisions, to understanding and acting on climate change – these are important tools in neuroscience. Their approach to clients is organic, and working with agencies will provide integrated solutions and tools that are appropriate for a larger volume of clients.

Beliefs, Prejudice and Understanding

The measures in neuroscience that help customers understand how well they are doing are historical norms, competitive norms, but a larger chunk remains imprecise, such as consumer norms and snapshot norms. What customers appreciate and realise is that they are in an attention-based economy. There is also the realisation that we are not only competing against our competitors and ourselves, but also future competitive threats and the average end customer.

The biases that marketers should be aware of are racial bias, their own bias (cognitive bias) and accessibility bias. When we really understand value, we also need to understand the stark difference in what could be returned.

He went on to present a couple of interesting projects such as the Super Bowl, where he is looking at which ads were effective, and the Home Equity Bank project, where he is looking at age bias and how older people respond to the same marketing stimuli.

Interview Kevin concludes with thoughts on the presence of technology in customer research, that there are many privacy concerns, specifically with the collection of data to which consumers have not consented. This problem leads to innovation in technology and deep understanding and derivation from specific information. There will be a meaningful value exchange with the customers – the people who use this technology. And the focus is on the transparency of the business and the processing of that data. The ones who will come out and win will be the ones who will provide that transparent and translucent exchange of value with consumers for the contributions that they will provide.

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