Your Brain on Coupons


With today’s economic condition, interest in discount coupons has been growing. Neuromarketing firm NeuroFocus has examined how people react to both print and online coupons using their typical combination of EEG, eye-tracking, and galvanic skin response. Neurofocus translated the data into what they call “Key Neurological Metrics” (Attention, Emotional Engagement, and Memory Retention) and “Market Performance Indicator” metrics derived from the KNMs (Purchase Intent, Novelty, and Awareness).

The results showed that online coupons tended to have a higher impact than similar print ads:

The research shows that across the board, the online version of a coupon outperformed the print version, by wide margins in almost every one of the neurometrics categories. Only in Memory Retention were the two coupon types close, and even there the online version still held a significant advantage.

Print can regain the upper hand, though:

The company created a new “branded element” and added it to both print and online coupons, to determine if the addition would have any effect on consumers’ subconscious responses. The results were striking.

When this new branded element, which NeuroFocus is keeping proprietary for competitive reasons, was included in both versions the overall Effectiveness score was virtually reversed. With this new element, consumers preferred the print coupon over the online version by almost the same margin that the earlier test had produced for online over print.

You can see all the data in the press release from NeuroFocus. I found it difficult to interpret the data and jargon – what exactly does the “Neurological Effectiveness score” represent, and how meaningful is the difference between 6.2 and 7.0, for example? In addition, the fact that adding an unspecified “branding element” essentially reversed the results further muddies the water.

My advice my sound like neuromarketing heresy: if you promote your product or service with coupons, choose the distribution media based not on brain scans or biometrics, but on which will be most effective at getting your discounts in front of interested consumers.

  1. Fred H Schlegel says

    Sounds like what they really discovered was that different creative approaches change the result you get from different distribution methods. I like your comment: “which will be most effective at getting your discounts in front of interested consumers.”

  2. Roger Dooley says

    Thanks, Fred. I always try to find some actionable info for marketers when I write about neuroscience or neuromarketing research, but I just couldn’t come up with anything from this conflicting and not very compelling data.


  3. Richard says

    Keeping your eye out for vouchers and actually using them saves you so much and as a student it allowed me to spend more on alcohol; good training for these harsh times

  4. Steve says

    Really, Roger, you are being too easy on these guys. The problem is not just the applicability of the findings, but the statistical implausibility of the data presented.

    You ask the right question, “how meaningful is the difference between 6.2 and 7.0?”. The press release provides an answer: “Ranked on a 0-10 scale, where a difference of +/- 0.2 is significant”.

    But just think about that for a second. If a difference between, say, 6.2 and 6.4 is “significant”, then a difference like the first result reported for the “attention” measure, 5.5 vs. 7.1, must be astronomically significant. To get such statistical power, they must either have a sample size in the hundreds, or a metric with pinpoint precision that exceeds anything ever reported in the scientific literature. Either is possible, but neither is very likely.

    Neuromarketing reporting should be held to the same scientific standards as other market research fields. Numbers like those in the NF press release are meaningless without the most basic transparency of probability levels, sample sizes, and the minimal background provided in scientific publications. In the absence of such information, I think your otherwise excellent blog does its readers a disservice by passing along this sort of puff piece as “findings”.

    Full disclosure: I acknowledge I have a dog in this race. I am CEO of Lucid Systems, a competitor of NeuroFocus.

  5. atul chatterjee says

    It is more convenient to handle a coupon from an online company. You can store them more easily.
    As far as your comment that the company created a new branded element which reversed the preference, you are revealing too little.

    The heading of the blog is compelling not so the content.

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