Traditional market research provides general information about product recall, but it never reveals why your product didn’t make an impression on consumers.


If you have two ads, one featuring young people playing in the water and the other showing a waiter holding a tray of cocktails, which one makes a better tourism ad?

This is the question a travel agency faces. The company has produced print ads to promote their city-tour packages (products). Except for the actual pictures, these two ads share a similar design with the product placed in the lower middle while the brand name is in the lower right corner. The agency wanted to compare the ads to find out which one is more effective.

Let’s take a look at the two ads. In the first ad “Miami: You don’t have to choose”, two beautiful bikini-clad girls and a good looking guy are playing in the water. The sunshine, the blue water, as well as their tanned bodies along with their laughter at first glance appears like a perfect tourism ad–Many of us will even feel the hot Miami beach weather immediately.

Compared with that ad, the second one “London: James belongs to you” looks a little bit plain. A waiter holds a tray of two cocktails. He is looking at you with a slight smile on his face. The background is a normal hotel room door and a white wall. Not much excitement. Nor any room for imagination.

Apparently many of us like the first ad more, but is the first one really more effective than the second one? This question brings us back to the purpose of advertising. The main purpose of advertising is to create awareness and to influence the buying behavior of consumers. As a result, companies want consumers to remember their products and brands. Traditional market research provides general information about product/brand recall, but it never offers any behavioral insight which could answer the crucial question: why don’t consumers remember your product? Eye tracking technology, on the other hand, which collects data such as how quickly consumers notice a product and how long they look at the product, reveals exactly how consumers interact with your ad and helps you figure out why your product didn’t make an impression on them. 

Keeping these goals in mind, we used eye tracking technology to test the two ads. We randomly chose participants comprising 50% men and 50% women and displayed the two ads in a controlled environment. Each ad was shown for 6 seconds.

For the first ad “Miami: You don’t have to choose”, it took consumers an average of 2.5 seconds out of a total of 6 seconds to notice the product. Their eyes lingered on the product for an average of 0.9 seconds. Out of 74 participants only 57 actually looked at the product.

For the second ad “London: James belongs to you”, consumers located the product in an average of 1.7 seconds out of a total of 6 seconds. They spent an average of 1.2 seconds on the product. Out of 80 participants, 72 of them looked at the product.

As we can see, the well-loved Miami ad failed the test of effectiveness! Consumers took longer to notice the product and spent less time on the product. More than 1/5 of consumers walked away without even seeing the product. In order to dig into what exactly happened, we analyzed the eye tracking data. From that data, we could clearly see in the Miami ad lots of attention was drawn to the three faces and the girls’ bodies (legs, chests and butts). With so much to distract their attention, the product became virtually invisible in the field of many consumers’ vision.

On the contrary, in the London ad, thanks to the plain design, the product became the second most viewed area besides the waiter’s face. Consumers even started reading the small text content next to the product, which didn’t get much attention in the Miami ad.

Now let’s look at the brand performance. For both ads, it took consumers an average of 5.8 seconds to notice the brand. But The London ad still scores higher because more consumers saw the brand and spent longer looking at it. (In the Miami ad, the length of time consumers looked at the brand was so short that the system rounded it to 0 seconds). The reason is besides the fact that in the London ad, there are fewer distractions vying for the consumer’s attention, using the dark brown hotel room door as a background adds color contrast, which makes the brand more visible. Again, London beats Miami.

Thanks to eye tracking, the travel agency now knows there is more to the story than just the outward appearance of the ad.