How TACODA hopes to track the brain

Stephen Baker

In this week's article, I originally hoped to dwell more on interviews I had at TACODA Systems, the behavioral advertising company. As I mentioned in the previous post, they're trying to hook up Web surfers to a brain scanners. There wasn't room in the story for details. Here are a few:

In tests late last year, TACODA's researchers recruited 30 human guinea pigs at malls in New Jersey and southern California. They hooked them to an eye-scanning camera, and recorded every darting movement as the subjects clicked through 50 Web pages. Results indicated that the ads dropped on pages unrelated to the advertisements' message attracted 17% more looks than the relevant pages. This number rose on the second and third exposures to the ads.

But did these glances register in the brain? For this, TACODA CEO Dave Morgan hired Bill Harvey, ceo of NextCentury Media, of Gardiner (NY). Harvey was a pioneer three decades ago in measuring TV. Working for Arbitron, he tracked ads geographically in what he called areas of dominent influence, or ADI. This quickly became an industry standard. Only by knowing where the ads played could advertisers gauge their effectiveness in stores and showrooms. "For the last 15 years, one of my driving issues has been addressable advertising," he says.

Harvey and Morgan decided to test brain technology originally used by the U.S. Navy to see how pilots spotted friends or foes in the air. The system monitors the spark of recognition, which is associated with so-called p300 neural activity. Testing starts in coming weeks. If a so-called p300 wave heats up within a fraction of a second of a subject seeing an ad, the TACODA team will make the case that the viewer has not only looked at the spot, but has processed it mentally. Eventually, Harvey says, he expects a host of new measurements in advertising to lead to a system of "weights and measures" for the global industry, "so that it becomes possible for the buyer and seller to agree on what value is being exchanged. The quantification of the marketing process," he says, "is what it's all about."

This quantification of the marketing process, I might add, fits into my book. I took a suitcase into New York yesterday and emptied out my office. So I really feel like the book leave is starting today. What to do first this morning, schedule interviews in Washington or go out for coffee with my wife? This could get rough.

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