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Xbox Ads Make Your Heart Go Boom Boom Boom

Advertisers from Microsoft (s MSFT) and Mediabrands recently decided to go all out to measure the effectiveness of Xbox Live advertising: They wired up 300 test subjects with a special headset that can read biometric signals like your heart rate, eye motion, body temperature and breathing patterns. Half of the test audience was then presented with advertising on the Xbox Live platform, while the other half got to see traditional TV ads. Turns out, people show much more active and lasting responses to interactive advertising than to your 60-second oldteevee clip.

These results may not be that surprising, but the set-up of the study is fascinating — and a little frightening at the same time. Will the future of video advertising be based on labs with subjects wired to all kinds of sensors? Or will advertisers even one day be able to gather this type of data in the field, with biometric sensors becoming more and more a part of the video game experience?

Maybe it’s worth it to first take a look at the results in a nutshell: Microsoft and Mediabrands tested two ad campaigns from Kia and Hyundai with both traditional TV advertising and Xbox Live ad content, and the respondents in both cases spent far more time interacting with the Xbox Live content than with the TV spot. In the case of the Hyundai campaign, people clicked for more than six minutes on average through the Xbox Live ad content. The Hyundai TV ad, on the other hand, was just 30 seconds long. The interactive ads also caused far higher emotional responses from participants than the traditional TV ad.

Figuring our how people react to ad content on different platforms has always been a little tricky, especially since different types of media offer various ways to measure responses. Web advertisers like to look at click-through rates. The effectiveness of video ads are measured by the number of people sticking around to watch the whole thing, and TV advertising has long been a bit of a black box, at least until TiVo came around to offer some hints about what kind of clips we skip and which ones we elect to watch. Try to compare all this data, and it quickly gets fuzzy.

Microsoft now believes it has found the holy grail of cross-platform ad response measurement. “This is a big step forward for publishers and advertisers alike,” Mark Kroese, Microsoft’s Advertising Business Group GM, wrote yesterday, explaining the results on the company’s advertising blog. Of course, Kroese is biased. Other advertisers may be scared by the prospects of not only having to show their work to focus groups, but actually read through their biometric signals to see how bored they were.

However, the kicker for me is that these types of measurements may not be confined to labs forever. Biometric sensor devices like the ones used by Microsoft and Mediabrands are rooted in neuroscience, but they’re quickly crossing over to the world of entertainment. The Star Wars Force Trainer, one of the hottest geek kids toys this holiday season, lets players move objects just by the power of their mind, and it uses sensors similar to the ones used in the Microsoft study. The Emotiv headset also measures pretty much the same data, and it can be used to control video games with your thoughts. Kinda makes you wonder when Microsoft will start to sell its own biometrics headset to control Xbox games and measure the response to its Xbox Live ads at the same time, doesn’t it?

2 Responses to “Xbox Ads Make Your Heart Go Boom Boom Boom”

  1. It’s not hard to understand why the results came out this way. First, the content was substantially different – look at the Kia Soul XBox images and compare that to the visuals in the Kia Soul TV spot. It’s no wonder someone would have stronger emotions for the XBox ad. Second, the test didn’t have any context. Of course if you’re testing ads and someone puts up an interactive ad you’ll play around with it… but what if it pops up mid-stream of your programming? It doesnt matter how effective interactive ads are if someone opts to NOT interact with them. I’d like to see the test results of those that didnt interact with interactive ads.

  2. “Turns out, people show much more active and lasting responses to interactive advertising than to your 60-second oldteevee clip.”

    This an utterly specious conclusion given the methodology employed. These “results” are based on data collected from a self-selected sample tasked with evaluating advertising from a single brand!

    The participants demonstrated better brand recall if they visited a microsite? Of course they did! There was a greater “emotional” response while participants clicked around a website? Of course there was. I’m sure you can measure greater emotional response when people are digging ditches than when they’re parked in front of the TV set.

    The use of the sensor headsets is a sideshow; there’s nothing remotely scientific about this “research.”