To Make Adverts Shareable, Go With The Flow

One nice thing about testing thousands of ads is that we collect loads of data, and sometimes that data turns out to be useful in ways we hadn’t imagined it would.

For instance, we generally measure emotional reactions to video ads from moment to moment – so we can see where in a commercial happiness peaks, and whether it tails off towards the end. This is vital for working out how ads can be improved – spotting flat parts or unresolved negative emotions.

What we realised, though, is that it also gave us a way of measuring the emotional movement within an ad – in other words, how dynamic and dramatic the ad is. If we added up every time the emotion within an ad changed, we’d end up with a cumulative measure of how emotionally dynamic it is.

We called this measure Flux. If an ad takes you on a rollercoaster ride from happy, to fearful, to sad, then back to happy again, it would score a very high Flux rating. And if an ad just made you evenly happy from the first second to the last, with no other emotions coming in, its Flux would be really low.

What's your flux capacity?

What’s your flux capacity?

Investigating this stuff is fun, but it’s only useful if we can relate it to real-world behaviour. We know that if you feel nothing, you do nothing – ads which make people happy are better than ads which don’t, no matter how much dynamism and Flux we detect. So what sort of behaviour might the emotional movement in an ad predict? What is Flux good for? Continue reading

How To Eat A Sandwich (The Daniel Kahneman Way)*

This is a post about how to get a better experience from your lunchtime sandwich.

Here is a sandwich. This particular sandwich is a chicken, bacon and avocado baguette, but don’t worry! This powerful psychological trick works with any kind of sandwich.


How would you eat this sandwich? You might start at one end and finish at the other. But then you are left with this as your final bite.


Not very exciting.

But why does that matter? It’s all to do with something Daniel Kahneman hypothesises in Thinking, Fast And Slow: the peak-end rule. Continue reading

Eight Days Of Emotion No.5: Happiness

Happiness is the most important emotion we measure. It plays a role in every positive marketing or research outcome and is absolutely central to most. Whether you’re looking at the effectiveness of an advert, the progress of a new product or the value of a new idea, the single most important question you can ask is: does it make people feel happy?

Nominated by one BrainJuicer staffer as the happiest song in the world!

Put this starkly, you might think it’s too good to be true. Can one positive emotion really act as a proxy for so many outcomes? But there are excellent scientific reasons for the importance of happiness. Continue reading

The Ballad Of System 1

I thought I’d try and find a new way of explaining System 1 and System 2 thinking. Here – for better or for verse – are the results. I hope you enjoy them.


For marketing with real precision
You have to understand decision
How we decide’s the hidden key
To comprehending you and me.
At first it seems an easy task.
Want to know how we choose? Just ask!
The snag is, in reality
We show irrationality
Our judgements lack optimal fitness
And to our lives we bear poor witness
Homo economicus
Is a bad fit for most of us.

Which means research can’t well explain
The whims and hunches of the brain.
What luck! We know someone who can,
A guy called Daniel Kahneman.
He saw decisions with fresh eyes
(He also won a Nobel Prize)
His book, called Thinking Fast And Slow
Points to the way research should go.

Two modes of thought, writes Daniel K
Guide all that we think, do and say.
Behind what we say, think and do
Are System 1 and System 2.
And these two systems work in sync
Driving what we do, say, and think.

Decisions led by System 1
Tend to be easy, fast and fun.
They’re influenced by how we feel
Swayed by emotional appeal.
Directed by instinct or habit
(Eg. I throw a ball, you grab it)
They’re not entirely realistic.
They’re led by this or that heuristic.
They aren’t especially profound
They’re influenced by what’s around
A music, scent or colour cue –
Or just what other people do.
They’re the choices we’re always making
But don’t quite realise that we’re taking.

System 1 is light and speedy
But System 2 ‘s a lot more needy.
It chews up your attention span
As you  fret, cogitate or plan.
Risks to weigh, options to sort –
It’s System 2 which feels like thought.
But all this mental calculation
Can lead to needless perspiration.

Real thinking’s hard – it wears us out.
Which means that your ideas about
How we decide may need some shifting.
System 1 does the heavy lifting.
Most of the choices that we take
Are led by System 1, and make
No real demands on our attention
With no System 2 intervention.

For instance, let’s imagine that
You’re buying a ball and a bat.
If you buy both together then
They’ll set you back one dollar ten
Bat costs a dollar more than ball.
So what’s the ball’s price? Nearly all
Who hear this riddle choose a dime.
Ten cents feels right: they don’t take time
To work out that it’s really five.
They’ve let their System 1 brain drive.
Plausible answers win the day –
Thinking it through would cause delay.

It makes quick judgements on the fly
So System 1 can go awry
But it’s not meant to think things through
Its role is to say “this’ll do”
System 2 feels slow and tough
But System 1 is good enough
It’s System 1 that satisfies
While System 2 just ratifies
System 1 is the one that guides
System 1 mainly decides.
Then afterwards we work out why
And build a strong, coherent “I”
So when you ask, we always “know”
What we did, why, how long ago.
But we don’t think before we act, so
Our “reasons” tend to be post-facto.
Real choices happen out of sight.
We don’t think twice, and that’s alright.


This hands research a tricky task.
The worthy things it tends to ask –
Purchase intention, recall, grids –
Are tragically what forbids
Its subjects using System 1
To tell you what they’ve really done
Or let you know what they might do.
Trad surveys trigger System 2:
Sometimes the truth is better served
If people aren’t asked, but observed
And you’ll get closer to what’s real
If you measure what people feel.
So if you’ve made it down this far
Learn more at our next webinar.
Traditional methods too obtuse?
Try something with a bit more juice.

Door No.11: The System 1 Pack Test

Today’s experiment in our BrainJuicer Advent Calendar!

The Experiment: “System 1” – the fast, instinctive, often unconscious mode of decision making identified by Daniel Kahneman – is the concept that underpins almost all our work at BrainJuicer these days. If we can use research to understand people’s System 1 thinking, we can get at the real drivers for most of their decisions. Older research methods create an environment in which the more deliberative “System 2” is encouraged – they risk missing crucial factors in decision making.

Of all the experiments we’ve done this year, nothing illustrates this better than the “System 1 Pack Test”. A client came to us with a problem: their brand was consistently outperforming its competitors in packaging research, but was getting beaten at shelf. What was the research missing? The client felt that emotion was the key.

The hypothesis was simple: the competitor’s pack made people feel better.

The competitor was using information-light packaging with appealing visuals which made people’s decision making at shelf simpler than the client’s information-rich packs. System 1 decisions ought to be fun, fast, and easy to make, and the competitor fit this brief better.

But during research, system 2 took over, and the information and rational benefits listed on the client’s pack gave it the edge.

So how to get around this? We decided distraction and time pressure were key. Under pressure, people usually default to an option that comes easily to mind – in this case, the competitor pack, with its simpler, more emotionally appealing packaging.

So we built an online module which gave participants a simulated shelf and then introduced distractions – in the form of tannoy announcements – and time pressure to stop them resorting to considered system 2 assessments.

What happened? Continue reading

Reds And Blues

Watching the tumultuous end to the English football season yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this post by Dan Ariely. As he puts it, “As it turns out our happiness frequently depends not on where we are at the moment, but how easily we perceive we might be elsewhere, or in another, better situation… when it’s a close call, you can think of a dozen little things that would have changed the situation, and each one brings a pang of regret. So, the closer we are to this other possibility, what we refer to as counterfactual, the unhappier we become.”

This would surely have been Manchester City players – and fans’ – fate yesterday, had it not been for Sergio Aguero’s last-minute winner. As it is, the terrible burden of the counterfactual gets shifted to Manchester United – champions-elect when their own final whistle blew, only to find their victory snatched away two minutes later. In the comments to Ariely’s post, someone brings up a classic study of Olympic medal winners – silver medalists are on average less happy than bronze, because they came closer to the prize they really wanted and can’t help but imagine what might have been.

News breaks of City’s guest appearance in the Brian Juicer Blog.

And what of the “neutral” fan? Well, psychology suggests they might think of this as one of the great Premier League seasons. The peak end rule – cited by Daniel Kahneman in his Thinking, Fast And Slow – says that your impression of an experience is defined by the most emotionally intense part, and by the conclusion. So a mediocre sporting event with a thrilling finish might linger in the memory longer than one of sustained high quality! Not that such things can be engineered – but Euro 2012 organisers should be crossing their fingers for a last-minute winner if they want to make the championships memorable.

(Thanks to Peter Harrison for the link!)

Voulez-vous lire un article très intéressant?

Would you make decisions differently if you made them in a foreign language? That’s the premise of this fascinating WIRED article, reporting on a study that takes one of Daniel Kahneman’s classic experiments and runs it through the scientific equivalent of Google Translate – with surprising results.

We seem to be more rational – or at least, less subject to specific biases – if we consider problems in a foreign language, probably because the increased cognitive effort of doing the translating short-circuits the “system 1” thinking we’d normally employ.

Kahneman’s dual-system ideas are very dear to my heart, so it got me thinking – maybe the way to get rid of all those annoying biases in surveys is to make everyone take them in a second language! Or perhaps not.

Some of my friends at BrainJuicer – a cosmopolitan bunch, with plenty of non-native English speakers – had extra points to make. One is that we’d expect the effect to wear off eventually with fluency – once you start dreaming in a second language you might not need to engage your ‘slow’ brain. Another is that a lot of people pick up English, in particular, by cultural osmosis – pop music and Hollywood – so words and phrases might well still carry strong instinctive associations, even if they’re not in your native tongue.