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It’s All in Your Head

Spike’s VP of Brand and Consumer Research Explains How Neuroscience Is Unlocking Clues to How Audiences Think

Tom Grayman has a fascination for what makes people tick. So much so, he’s made a career out studying them.  And with over 20 years in the industry, he and his team are leading the charge when it comes to using neuroscience and biometric data to better inform how consumers really watch TV.

V: How would you describe your role and how it’s evolved?

Tom Grayman: I head brand and consumer insights for Spike TV, which involves deploying a wide variety of data and information sources to tell the story of who our viewers are, what they want, and how and where to reach them. What’s changed over the years is the volume, variety and information sources I have access to. New technology has allowed me to understand our consumer in ways I barely could have imagined.

V: What can neuroscience tell us that other forms of measurement and data can’t?

TG: Transactional data like ratings, views and purchases can only tell you what’s happened – not why it’s happening.  And since most of the motivators of human behavior operate at a subconscious level, survey respondents are only telling you about the drivers that exist above the water line. Neuroscience goes below the surface. It’s the difference between learning what makes someone a viewer and learning what makes them a fan.

V: Can you break down how the actual research is conducted and what that looks like from an insider’s perspective?

TG: Viewers are recruited to come in and watch a 30-minute program containing test advertising while wearing a cap fitted with electrodes. These electrodes capture brainwave activity that corresponds to the viewers’ emotional state and memory encoding activity. The output provides a second-by-second charting of their emotional reaction and memory encoding behaviors while watching the test ad.

V: What’s the most unexpected result from a study that’s surprised you?

TG: In testing the trailer for last summer’s Tut miniseries on Spike, we found that the most engaging content and the best-remembered content are not necessarily the same thing. The cinematic approach we took in composing the first group of promotional trailers maximized overall emotional engagement, but also caused the brain to shut down long-term memory encoding right after the background music had reached its climax (i.e. the key moment we were trying to communicate important details like time and tune-in).  As a result, we went back and re-edited the trailer to address this issue.

V: You’ve described the brain as, “always looking for a reason to rest and not pay attention.” Is this due to too much stimuli or some other outside factor?  

TG: Storing images in long-term memory is an energy-intensive process for the brain. It simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to remember everything it encounters. So unless it picks up some cue that it perceives is worth remembering long-term, it will power down.

V: What other forms of study can neuroscience be applied to?

TG: The application to this technology to answer these kinds of business questions is still in its early phase. There may be no limit to the kinds of strategic insights that could be developed. For example, a simple next step would be to explore differences in reactions to content between different demographic groups – younger vs. older, female vs. male, and so on.

V: Should researchers start taking how and where content is viewed into consideration?

TG: Yes, watching a large screen TV in a home environment and watching a mobile device while out in public could very well prove to generate different cognitive reactions to the same content. If so, it becomes important to test content in multiple scenarios and platforms to optimize any marketing communications campaign’s overall effectiveness.

V: Politics is something you’re extremely passionate about. How would you implement neuroscience research in the upcoming election?

TG: This could have enormous applications with respect to political advertising. Additionally, this could be used to help candidates improve their performance in debates, or even to help them form their policy platforms. The possibilities are endless. 

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Published: Aug 18, 2016