Disney’s Secret Austin Neuromarketing Lab


According to the New York Times, the Walt Disney Company is operating a “secretive” lab in Austin, Texas, to perform neuromarketing studies. Specifically, the NYTimes describes a program to determine the effectiveness of online ads:

The tools are advanced: in addition to tracking eye movement, Dr. Varan and his 14-member team use heart-rate monitors, skin temperature readings and facial expressions (probes are attached to facial muscles) to reach conclusions.

Among the researchers findings is that, when it comes to online video, “flyout” ads that appear next to the media player deliver the same punch as see-through “transparency” ads that appear over the content, but are less intrusive. And keeping the news ticker running during commercial breaks on ESPN does not take away from the commercials — people only spend about 12.6 percent of ad time looking at it — and instead helps retain viewer attention. [From NYTimes.com – Lab Watches Web Surfers to See Which Ads Work by Brooks Barnes.]

Disney has made this outpost of biometric ad research quite elaborate:

The facility, which operates seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., has eight research rooms decorated as living rooms or home offices, with hardwood floors, soft lighting and comfortable furniture. There is also a theater that allows a dozen people to participate in a simultaneous experiment. Disney’s investment is estimated to be in the low seven figures.

The rooms are built around a central command post, where researchers scrutinize participants via video monitor — one room has 20 cameras — and through one-way mirrors.

I’m personally excited that this kind of work is being done. Since I spend much of my time involved in online advertising, I’m happy that a major company like Disney is investing in finding out what really gets and holds the attention of consumers. I hope that in addition to their biometric work, Disney closes the loop and ties that data to concrete measures like brand recall and actual product purchases.

1 Comment
  1. TwistedSifter says

    Agreed on your closing remarks re: closing the loop. Great to see companies investing money into this type of research.

    I wonder how much info the subjects are given about the nautre of the research?

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