EyeTrackShop uses webcams for online eye tracking

April 28, 2011 | by Kim Williams

Stockholm, Sweden-based MRC International, an online survey tool provider, in conjunction with Tobii Technology, has developed what it says is the world's first online eye tracking solution, EyeTrackShop, to utilize webcams for advertising and market research studies, and has recently expanded into the U.S. market.

What this means for U.S. advertisers and market researchers, according to Jeff Bander, senior vice president of client services, is the availability of a cost- and time-effective solution to help identify key visual stimulants in advertisements and a better understanding of vital consumer patterns.

"Doing this with a webcam is really a breakthrough because when it was tested with traditional eye tracking machines, there was virtually no difference in quality and results," Bander said.

The studies measure consumers' visual responses to print, TV and Internet ads, as well as packaging. Currently studies are being conducted for Clorox to test the packaging of a new product, and a major magazine publisher to measure consumer responses to determine which covers to print.

Below are the visual findings of a recent online study conducted by MRC in which more than 400 participants, spanning four countries, measured 100 different online advertisements. Procter & Gambles’ Pampers in Sweden was declared  the most effective online advertisement.

Typical eye tracking services can cost $20,000 to $30,000 and require staffing and facilities, but the solution from MRC and Tobii costs about one-tenth of the price and is performed entirely online. Results are generally delivered, depending on the size of the study, within 48 hours, according to Bander.

After the eye tracking test, a questionnaire is administered for the user to rate their emotional responses to the products, levels of brand recognition and likelihood of buying the product, among other metrics.  

Before expanding into the U.S. market, MRC's international client roster has included Procter & Gamble, Google, Group M and Clear Channel Outdoor.

Delivering honest responses

Tobii Technology, also based in Stockholm, is a manufacturer of hardware and software solutions for eye tracking and eye control. The company developed the eye tracking technology more than 10 years ago to offer people with speech and language disabilities the ability to communicate through a computer.

Bander said he likes to tell the story that was shared with him upon joining MRC about a woman who was paralyzed in a car accident and was unable to communicate with her family. Her family members would take turns visiting her in the hospital, and after about six months, the family got in touch with Tobii to set up a computer with the eye tracking software.

Once installed, the system tracked her eye movements and translated what she wanted to say to her family through a computerized voice.

"The first thing she said to her kids was 'Thank you. I love you all, but I need some private time,'" Bander said. "It was certainly an unexpected response."

Bander said Tobii eventually realized that the technology could also be used for market research. About 18 months ago, the company decided to develop and implement the webcam, and now sells the equipment and software to companies such as Procter & Gamble.

"There are a lot of research companies that own this eye tracking equipment. It is really the industry standard, but the introduction of the webcam makes it much more cost-effective," Bander said.

Multi-platform media publisher Bonnier Corp., publishers of magazine titles such as "Field & Stream," "Popular Science" and "Parenting," recently employed MRC for eye tracking studies of some of its properties in Sweden, including Sköna Hem, an interior design magazine, and Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish daily newspaper.

In the study, test subjects read the publications in both print and iPad versions.

"The findings showed us that the average time spent on a page was up by 35 percent on the iPad version versus a print page. The average time spent on ads was up 65 percent on the iPad over print ads," said Gregg Hano, vice president, group publisher for Bonnier.

Popular Science was one of the first magazines offered on the iPad when it was launched in April 2010.

"Having this research to validate the commitment readers have, and the engagement they want to have with the ads, reinforces that we're doing the right thing, and we need to keep moving in this direction as quickly as we reasonably can," Hano said.

Expansion plans

Bander joined the team to open the New York City office two weeks ago. Plans to begin building teams on the West Coast and in other parts of the U.S. will move forward in three months.

"Our long-term business model vision is really to white-label our product with other research companies and ad agencies, while still working with companies individually, to allow them to integrate the research and results into their companies' look and feel," Bander said.

Topics: Consumer Behavior , Marketing , Technology

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