Behind The Eyeballs: 75% of All Ads and Content Ineffective?

So many designers, user interface creators and arm-chair critics think they know what makes really compelling content, how ads should be displayed or even how a web site or application should be delivered. But do they? Do any of us really know what it takes to present and communicate content and ads that are truly compelling, cut above the noise, and garner attention from an increasingly scattered audience who have in front of them an overwhelming and accelerating number of choices?

One company is staking a claim to an understanding of the cognitive landscape behind our eyeballs with their quantitative and measurable solutions: NeuroFocus (via AdLab). Dr. A.K. Pradeep, CEO of NeuroFocus, said this in a follow-up interview with Media Post: “We’ve found that about 75% of all content–not just advertisements–is not neurologically optimal.”

“For example, consumers interpret info on different parts of a screen with different sections of their brain. […] So an advertiser or TV show producer has reduced the engagement potential and effectiveness of their content from the onset if the bulk of the textual and numerical info is placed on the left side–with the imagery or brand logos on the right.”

The company obtains their results through biometric measurements. That means volunteers strap on a skull cap with electrodes on it and engage with the content and advertisements of which they’re presented. The thing that troubles me a bit, is that like the uncertainty principle in quantum physics, my experiences have shown that when observers know they’re being measured their behavior and cognitive processing changes. It does seem, however, that NeuroFocus’ research at least provides a baseline from which content and ads can be more precisely delivered. Then further refinement can occur (with we unaware and passive brains behind eyeballs) with other analytical tools or simple measures of clickstream data.

The Nielsen Company (the grandaddy of TV measurement) has made a strategic investment in NeuroFocus so they’re obviously on to something.

The promise (to advertisers) of the shift to internet-based ad delivery is measurement and to us (the online user) it’s ad relevancy, contextualized or personalized ads. Rarely does significant  and ongoing ad placement occur without measurement nor do venture capitalists sit still for long as ad-dependent-for-revenue companies attempt to drive user engagement and expansion of our involvement with their offering…and thus garner advertisers.

Solid measurement is healthy. Best practices more so as they’re indicators of actions we can take with understandable and quantifiable returns. It’s still pretty early in the evolution of the internet, but knowing what to do, how to deliver it and how to measure it is key to economic success on the ‘net and continued innovation.

To read more, take a peek at this well done New York Times article here and the CEO has a couple of mp3’s and a white paper here.


  1. Lief Larson on April 29, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    75% of content is deficient neurologically in what? Thinking? Acting?

  2. Steve Borsch on April 29, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    @Lief: not deficient…just not ‘optimal’. They’ve devised a method for how people pay attention, where their eyes go on the screen, and what they’re drawn to on the screen. They apparently also have ways to pinpoint specific moments within content (say, a video) where people are hyperfocused on screen action.

    Of course, they want you to give them money before all these secrets are revealed!

  3. PXLated on April 29, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    It’s been reported many times (I recall as far back as 1999) that anything on the right gains less attention and thought than the stuff on the left. Some surmise that we’re trained that way because we’re left to right readers here. Some say we’re trained that way on web sites because the most frequent position of logos/nav are on the left (or inverted L), it’s almost a standard. Ads on usually on the right (or top center) so we ignore them and that position. Most eyetracking (hotspot) analysis has confirmed this.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.