Adding the Unconscious to Brand Engagement

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Engagement has become the holy grail of advertising but, strangely, it is not anchored in any metric, and further has no agreed-upon meaning in the marketing research community. Nor is it clear that engagement, however assessed, accurately predicts consumer behavior. As market researchers, we need to redefine the concept.

To begin, any definition of engagement must include ‘capturing attention.’ There must also be a positive reaction to the content attended to. And, there must be interaction between the consumer and the positively attended object:

A consumer is engaged only when s/he notices and then interacts positively with an ad or brand.

It is still widely assumed by the marketing community that engagement must be the result of a conscious decision. After all, how can something be an object of one’s attention if consciousness is not involved? But it turns out that ‘attention’ can be generated in the unconscious and so can emotional reactions. This means that we should measure unconscious as well as conscious engagement. Conscious engagement can be measured through self-reports, time spent on an ad, click throughs, etc., but what about unconscious engagement?

An effective, and scalable, way to measure the unconscious affect an ad has on a person, is through the strength of the associations it triggers, which can be accomplished with techniques as Implicit Networks Testing. To measure emotional reactions, the researcher presents a central aspect of the brand (e.g., logo, package, ad) too rapidly (1/24 sec) for the conscious, cognitive part of the brain to process, but slowly enough to be processed emotionally. Such Implicit Emotions Testing combines the results of conscious and unconscious engagement to yield a fuller picture of the person’s reaction to the ad/brand and produces a more accurate engagement metric.

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