All Eyes on You

Eye-movement recorders scan eyes to determine where ads succeed—and fail
Oct 01, 2007

Lee Weinblatt
For years, advertising agencies have been coaxing people into back rooms at malls to review ads in exchange for a couple of dollars or a lotto ticket. Although this method of gauging ad effectiveness is useful for gathering thoughts about whether an advertisement is liked or disliked by a reader, it doesn't convey the whole story to the ad agency. Marketers want to know things like: Did you read the copy first or look at the photo? Are you distracted by a particular color? How obvious is the risk information? Does this ad have stopping power? Plus, with the mall approach, agencies must factor in the reality that many focus group participants just give the answers marketers want to hear and collect their cash.

Rather than reaching for the market-research standby, pharma marketers are now taking advantage of an old technology that can tell exactly what consumers are looking at when they see an ad.

Eye-motion detectors have been used for nearly 35 years to electronically show what the mind is seeing, and companies like PreTesting use the technology to study how people react to ads, package designs, and displays. The device detects what areas are viewed or ignored in ads, what type of art best catches peoples' attention, and—for pharmaceutical ads—whether the consumer reads the risk/benefit information. Here, I review a series of print ads and explain why they work and, more importantly, what could have been done better.

CYMBALTA: With the Cymbalta campaign, our eye-movement recorder found that very few readers noticed the pictures and copy at the top of the ad, which show a woman bearing the strain of depression. Some of the best ads present the problem and the solution, but unless the readers are involved in the copy at the top, they won't react to the "before and after" of this ad. The copy on the right, which is all one font and difficult to read, also had very low readership.

This ad would have been more effective as a two-page spread. The blue box at the top would have worked better on the left. And the creators should have saved all that room spent on Lilly at the bottom and pushed the copy down at least half an inch. They also should have taken a key line and made it bolder and larger in the copy.

BAYER: One of the things we learned with this ad is that readers' eyes first read the "and heartbreak" line of copy before reading "helps prevent heart attacks." The good news is that the "heartbreak" line did get readers to read more of the copy. What you really want to do in any print ad or television commercial is stress the benefit of the product. For instance, if you have a drug that lowers cholesterol, do you really want to say just that, or would you rather get your audience more emotionally involved, with copy that emphasizes, for example, "can help you see your children graduate"? Many pharmaceutical ads don't drive home the very bottom-line benefit to the audience, missing a great opportunity to truly connect emotionally. Ads also should explain what makes the drug different from the competition's.

The problem this ad has is the gentleman's hand: The white text is difficult to read on top of the skin tone. Fortunately, reader's eyes are drawn to the black-on-yellow copy. In this particular case, it helps, because people were curious what that copy meant. It was a gamble that worked, but most of the time it would fail.

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