Want to Learn about the Brain? Eye Track an Apple Ad

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If you want to learn how your brain works, in particular how it takes in visual stimuli, look at an Apple ad.

The tech giant, listed as the world’s 9th largest company, with a current valuation of some $800 billion, has introduced revolutionary products since the ’70s. Less celebrated is how its success is rooted in computer science and consistently, dare we say it, reverential respect for and application of neuroscience. Apple studies the human brain, and more than any other tech company we know, designs its products to fit our hidden proclivities, particularly the innate animal ones we may not realize we have.

Above is a recent iPad ad that caught my eye; I don’t own an iPad and am not interested in doing so, yet the ad drew me in. How? We decided to eye track it with off-the-shelf software that tracks pre-attentive processing, or the first 3 to 5 seconds you look at something – that’s well before your conscious brain can get into the act.

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Ah-hah! We found-out fast that the iPad ad masterfully manipulates our pre-attentive algorithms, feeding the brain just what it’s built to see, in the way that’s easiest for it to take in.  Above is a ‘heat map’ which glows brightest where we look most, fading to blue and then grey in areas ignored. We see how the colorful contrasting ‘dots’ (perhaps they’re stars or planets) on the iPad screen in the original ad are far from randomly selected: they hook us magnetically, then our attention shifts to the text and then back again to the new product’s screen. The predicted visual sequence within the first-5-seconds is diagrammed below, starting first in the area of pinkish dots  and then, appropriately enough, ending right back there. Of course the dots’ reddish hue is far from randomly selected since our eyes go straight for that color, in particular favoring red-green contrasts which the ad – surprise! – also provides. Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 12.05.52 PM

Eye-tracking studies outline regions of an image to summarize where attention will likely fall. And the diagram below statistically quantifies why this ad’s a keeper: some 88% of viewers are predicted to focus directly on the new product screen, with 79% taking in the product name. Not bad, considering all this likely happens without a word of instruction from the vendor within 5 seconds.Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 11.57.53 AMApple, of course. sees its business as knowing people well, better than they know themselves. Steve Jobs was not at all secretive about the corporate approach either. “The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have,” he would say.

It’s just that most people never quite understood what he meant; he was talking about hidden processes that direct their lives and that they didn’t and still don’t know are there.

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