In Depth

P&G Tracks Eyeballs Online--Literally--Using Webcam Home Test; Pampers Ad Tops in Effectiveness Among 100 in Nordic Trial Run

By Jack Neff
Advertising Age

Procter & Gamble Co. has signed with a company that uses webcams to literally track eyeballs online, and the results so far look pretty good at least for one of its brands, Pampers--in Scandinavia.

An online ad for Pampers showed up as the most effective among 100 online ads from various marketers in a study among 400 participants viewing the ads at home in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. The study was conducted by Stockholm-based MRC Online EyeTracking, which uses webcams and software developed by Tobii Technology to follow viewers' gaze. MRC defined effectiveness based on where and how long people looked at elements of the advertising.

P&G has signed on as a customer of MRC's EyeTrackShop service for the Nordic region, said Matthias Plank, CEO of MRC International. MRC also has an office in China and recently opened a U.S. office in New York, but P&G is not working with the company in the U.S. at this point, he said.

Mr. Plank said MRC is working with P&G on pre-tests of online ads and with some in-store marketing materials. Overall, he said MRC tests about 100 ads a week and has done tests in 30 countries. It promises to turn around tests in 48 hours.

MRC's webcam-based eye tracking has the advantage of not requiring headsets and needs only webcams that can be used at home, making it easier and cheaper than conducting tests in laboratory conditions used by some other companies in biometric and neuromarketing research.

"We are extremely happy that Pampers was recognized as the most effective ad [in the MRC study]," Krister Karjalainen, head of digital for P&G in the Nordic region and a former web manager for Ikea, said in a statement. "As P&G is driving digital innovation to better serve consumers, we are also looking into improving online measurement methods. Eye-tracking technology is an interesting technology that could help."

Other biometric and neuromarketing research firms also use eye tracking as part of their approach, but Bill Stephenson, senior VP-client service at Innerscope, said in an email, "We do have reservations around assuming eye tracking technology alone can answer the most relevant questions in home. Eye tracking can tell you how your creative works functionally (how the colors and movement draws the eye) but is unable to measure an audience's emotional response."

For example, he said Innerscope has studied a Google TV ad on two completely different audiences -- VP-level media executives and what he described as "low-income 'Average Joes'" -- that show "tremendous emotional differences but the eye tracking is nearly identical."

Innerscope uses lab research that also includes monitoring people's pupil dilation, heartbeat, breathing, motion and skin conductivity to gauge emotional reaction to ads. Another recent Innerscope study with Yahoo found, not surprisingly, that contextual and personal relevancy of online ads increased attention and positive emotional response.