Emotion Quantified: How Hollywood is getting to the heart of consumer behaviour

From loyalty programmes to advertising, eliciting emotional responses in customers has become the new Holy Grail for companies of every stripe hoping to develop a competitive edge over their rivals.

Whilst companies such as Apple have managed to develop this kind of mass emotional attachment to their brand with unparalleled success, others have struggled.

The issue, you would think, is the intangible nature of emotion. Traditional qualitative methods can give us an idea of what drivers we need to pull on in order to elicit an emotional response in consumers. And it’s only recently that neuroscience has started to help us quantify consumers’ emotional responses.

In the world of market research, we’ve seen this applied to testing video adverts and packaging. But now similar technology is making its presence felt in Hollywood. Last year, Lightwave, a US-based bioanalytics company  partnered with 20th Century Fox, harnessing their cutting-edge technology to measure emotional responses to Alejandro Inarritu’s Oscar-winning epic; ‘The Revenant’. The technology in question was a wearable which measures biological responses such as heart rate, motion and changes in the electrical activity of the skin to understand human reactions to external stimulus.

Lightwave’s wearable tracked the emotional journey of 200 preview goers as they endured the heart pounding trauma of bear attacks, betrayal, salvation and revenge in order to create an emotional map tracking the film’s most impactful moments. The clever device measured 14 heart-pounding moments, 15 fight-or-flight responses and 4716 seconds where viewers were rendered motionless, suggesting peak engagement levels.

Tracking behavioural data in this way helps Lightwave to avoid what we at FreshMinds like to call the ‘3 Evil Cs of Bias in Research’, namely Claimed, reCalled behavior which is recorded out of Context. Whilst traditional methods of measuring emotional impact suffer heavily from these drawbacks, Lightwave’s unobtrusive and elegant wearable neatly avoids all these issues by measuring behavioural data and doing this in-situ. Combined with qualitative research to understand the reasoning behind consumers’ reactions, this could be a powerful tool for understanding emotional responses to Hollywood epics like ‘The Revenant’. But it could also be applied more broadly, testing adverts and other media with consumers in real-life settings, and by using less obtrusive technology than your typical neuroscience tools.