Ad Testing & Eye Tracking In The Emerging Smartwatch Market

Nate Decker
Ph.D. Behavioral Scientist, Sentient Decision Science

Since the advent of television, video advertising has provided a window into the innovative and the novel. The newest innovation in smartwatches is no exception.

This new, fast-paced technological world left many people cynical and distrustful of first-generation tech-fad devices: expensive devices with limited features that can be replaced by newer versions or better devices with more features. A strong advertisement that demonstrates value is required to reduce aversion to this newness and to increase preference.

On first blush, smartwatches are completely superfluous. Most features that extend beyond telling the time require a similarly-featured smartphone. The frame by Apple and other smartwatch manufacturers is to market as a watch instead of a wrist device.

Devices are advertised by demonstrating features, whereas watches are advertised by building associations with intangible qualities like luxury or elegance. Regular watches have not been sold solely on their usefulness in decades. A Rolex provides more than just the time; if I only needed the time, I would look at my smartphone.

That brings us to the essential question: how does one sell something as feature-driven in its development as a smartwatch when the category is shared with products that rely on so many intangible qualities? Should an ad focus on the functions, fashion, or both? To investigate this, we performed ad testing with several respondents. In the testing, we showed one of several ads for different smartwatches using our Subtext™ implicit ad-testing platform and evaluated the impact on people’s attitudes and behavior.

Ad Testing Introduction

Several ads for new smartwatches show almost exclusively what a smartwatch can do. The original launch ad for the Apple Watch relied heavily on demonstrating features. This is done using a few understated emotional cues, including the traditional Apple ad white background and upbeat music.

Another example of feature demonstration is this Galaxy Gear ad that demonstrates features using actors demonstrating the features with a short-form narrative.

By contrast, some smartwatch ads have tried to use approaches that focus less on tangible qualities of a new device and more on how innovative and luxurious it is; how it will make you feel. Here are two examples, one from Galaxy and one from LG:

There are obviously also ads that try to blend substance with style to achieve the combined effect, like the humorous ads from Motorola for the Moto 360:

Ad Impact on Emotion and Reason

As product innovation advances, so too do our tools to understand adoption of technology. From the Subtext™ Seven measures of communication effectiveness, we focus here on Emotional Reaction (3) and Rational Justification (4) to understand the combination of emotion and reason on preference, and on Attention (7) to identify people’s focus in each of the videos that we can trace back to lift in preference.

We exposed each participant to one of the five smartwatch videos above (400 participants per video), and used Proportion of Emotion modeling to measure changes in preference for smartwatches after a video ad exposure. The change in share of preference for each watch is below.

Smartwatch Preferences After Video Ad Exposure

Price was a strong determining factor in purchase according to the reasoned-based trade-off used to measure share of preference; this yielded lower preference for the much more expensive Apple Watch.

Also excluded from these analyses were people who had seen an ad before (many fans of a specific brand who might have an irrational preference have probably already seen their brand’s video).

For example, purchase preference for Apple Watch is not lifted due to this video alone among Apple owners. The Apple Watch ad did not succeed in lifting preference for either group, whereas the other four ads lifted preference for owners and non-owners.

The ads that focused on the stylistic aspects of a watch (Galaxy Gear “Innovation” ad and LG Urbane “Luxury” ad) both did well at lifting preference. Furthermore, the Galaxy Gear “Features” ad did very well at lifting preference. This video was much longer than the other ads, which likely impacted its effectiveness. Also, the features demonstrated in the ad used a narrative approach with people smiling and appearing to have a good time shown intermittently between the feature set demonstrations. This is best demonstrated through the measurement of Attention from the Sentient Seven.

Watching You Watch Watches

We used eye tracking to identify focal points among the successful and unsuccessful ads. Let’s first look at the most successful and least successful ads at lifting preference and positive emotion.

In the Galaxy Gear ad, something as simple as seeing a smiling face while interacting with a product can lead to stronger positive emotional associations with a product. By contrast, the Apple Watch ad has no such associations, and is merely presenting a laundry list of features in quick succession with focused attention on the smartwatch.

With these ads, a combination of demonstrating features and portraying human interaction works best. The full launch campaign from Apple demonstrates knowledge of this tactic and deftly applies it in subsequent spots. Following the feature focused launch ad, Apple released a new ad that took a similar tack with the Galaxy Gear Features ad, showing people living, using, smiling, and laughing with their Apple Watch.

Copy Testing Best Practices

These results provide insight on best practices in copy testing:

First, ensure your sample reflects the segment of the market you’re trying to influence (current customers versus non-customers may react quite differently to your ad).

Second, if you are using an implicit measure of ad effectiveness, ensure you’re using it as an impact variable.Implicit associations with brands or products after exposure to an ad are more meaningful and better predictive of success than implicit reactions to the ad itself.

Third, test each component of your copy according to its purpose. If you have one spot that is intended to raise awareness of features and another that is focused on making a more human social connection, be certain that your ad evaluation of each focuses on those points of efficacy.

Now, while I personally will probably never buy a smartwatch, it makes me feel a bit less cynical to know that people’s preferences for new technologies are still heavily dependent on psychology. To learn more about the fundamental psychological research being conducted in the Sentient Consumer Subconscious Research Lab, leave a comment or tweet us: @SentientInsight.





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