Rajiv Rao, national creative director at Ogilvy and Mather, wasn’t surprised when the agency’s “super dad" ad for Vodafone SuperNet was widely appreciated, both by consumers and advertising experts, at its release during the Indian Premier League. He himself was charmed by the story of the supercool dad who saves the day for his son. The television commercial was created to promote telecom firm Vodafone’s network.

What has surprised Rao, however, is the fact that the ad was picked by Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience, a part of research and information firm Nielsen, to be tested on various parameters such as attention, emotional engagement and overall effectiveness, among others.

The ad narrates the simple tale of a father who is going to drop his son—draped in a dhoti for a school function—to the bus stop. On the way, the little boy’s costume comes undone. There is a moment of panic but after the initial struggle, the super dad manages to tie the dhoti back with the help of an online video on his mobile (thanks to Vodafone SuperNet, of course). The story of the clueless father and the chubby child is light-hearted and endearing.

And that’s precisely why Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience selected the commercial to study. In a category that usually stresses functionality, this was one of the few campaigns rooted in emotion, and popular. “It, therefore, intrigued me to see how it performs neurologically among the core audience at whom it was directed," says Dolly Jha, executive director at Nielsen India.

So, 20 people in Mumbai were selected from the socio-economic category A in the 25-35 age group. These were men with smartphones who are also users of 3G and 4G data. In the neuroscience experiment, they were fitted with caps to which EEG (electroencephalography) sensors were plugged. These sensors captured the electrical activity in the brain when the respondents viewed the stimulus—the ad in this case. Along with this, an eye tracker captured their pupil movement.

Although there are several measurement solutions to assess the impact of an ad on its target audience, most fail to capture its emotional connection with the viewer, feels Jha. Yet, it’s important to capture the emotions as studies show that purchase decisions are driven by them.

Emotions are intangible, and hence measuring them isn’t easy. And practitioners of neuroscience believe that direct response surveys can be misleading as verbal responses require respondents to express, and, therefore, rationalize their emotions as feelings. And feelings are subject to personal bias, culture, past experiences and other ingrained beliefs.

Neuroscience, on the other hand, captures emotions that are instinctive reactions to external stimuli. It uses techniques that can directly measure neurological and biological reactions like heart rate, sweat, posture, facial reactions and electrical impulses in specific regions of the brain. Neuroscience provides a holistic view of the thoughts that consumers are not always able to articulate.

In short, consumer neuroscience, claims Jha, offers a deep, clear view into the real-world, real-time reactions of consumers at the most elemental level through their brainwaves. By capturing the reactions deep within the subconscious, it shows exactly how consumers perceive brands, marketing, and the message—at the most granular level, she says.

This science measures two sets of metrics. Primary metrics include: attention—a measure of how much “brain" energy one has to devote to decipher what is being shown, emotional engagement—the extent to which the respondent is “drawn" to the stimulus and memory activation—indicating the extent to which new memory connections get formed (encoding) or past memories are aroused (retrieval). Secondary metrics assess the overall effectiveness or appeal, action intent or the likelihood of a change in behaviour or intent to act on a message, comprehension or understanding of the experience and novelty. For the record, neuroscience leverages a technology that can capture response to various kinds of stimuli—advertising, packaging, point of sale material, shelves and content, among other things.

According to Jha, the Vodafone super dad ad delivered a healthy performance on all the critical neurometrics including overall effectiveness, action intent and emotional engagement. As part of the campaign, Vodafone was able to highlight the benefits of Vodafone SuperNet through an engaging slice-of-life story.

The study showed that it wasn’t just one segment of Vodafone’s ad, but a positive contribution of most segments that led to its good performance. “The ad not only benefited from a really strong start— priming the audience positively to the rest of their viewing experience—but was able to keep the audience engaged through most of its critical segments—thereby ensuring that the message found its mark," says Jha.

This granular second-by-second deep-dive into the ad equips advertisers with specific, immensely actionable insights. The technique can be used for advertising that is being created and before it hits the screens.

Ogilvy and Mather’s Rao, meanwhile, is delighted to learn that his agency’s light-hearted campaign fits the bill for that near-perfect TV commercial that evokes the right emotions in consumers.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.