By The Drum, Administrator

November 29, 2006 | 8 min read

Irony isn’t something that sits comfortably with the marketing community, and it’s certainly not something traditionally associated with the serious realms of research. But one of Scotland’s newest and most advanced research agencies has inextricably linked itself to the age-old symbol of luck and good fortune: a rabbit’s foot. And the irony is that luck has very little to do with the success of the company – or its clients.

Bunnyfoot, a self-described “behavioural research consultancy”, looks to cut clients’ research spend by using new technology to gauge the effectiveness of any ad campaign or piece of design or communications literature. It does this using “eye tracking”, which studies consumers’ eye movements across an image.

The agency was established in Oxford in 1999 by Jon Dodd and Robert Stevens, and it soon made its mark by combining accessibility services with cutting-edge technology. The agency then expanded to open an office in London before launching a Scottish branch earlier this year. The new, ultra-modern Edinburgh headquarters is located just around the corner from the Scottish Parliament building.

“Bunnyfoot as a UK brand is strong,” explains Sarah Ronald, director of the Edinburgh office. “We don’t want to be separate from that, so the Edinburgh office is very much an integrated piece of the overall Bunnyfoot offer. We are not constricted by geography.”

Ronald might be as fresh-faced as the technology her company offers, but she has already developed deep roots in the marketing industry, having spent a number of years working as an independent consultant for clients such as Standard Life, the Department of Work and Pensions and Prudential. “This is the first time I’ve been responsible for other people though,” Ronald says candidly. “But the main function of a directorial role is to surround yourself with the right people. It’s about building up a strong culture and ensuring that is maintained.”

However, it’s not just a management role that Ronald focuses her time on. She’s not afraid of getting her hands dirty too. “I’ve developed a good understanding of usability, accessibility and eye tracking,” she says. “And that helps me identify client problems and allows me to show them where Bunnyfoot can help them.

“I’ve got feet in two camps – one in IT finance and the other in marketing and advertising. Different disciplines have different problems and different approaches. To understand the two is key.”

Following a brief introduction to the other members of staff in the Edinburgh office, The Drum is introduced to the consultancy’s pride and joy: Tobii (pronounced Toby).

Tobii allows the consultancy to offer an “eye-tracking service”, which monitors how an audience observes a creative execution. A short test using Tobii shows how the system works and reveals how effective it can be in recording the eye movements of a person looking at a website or piece of advertising, recording the areas of a communication that the audience dwells on.

The eye tracker features a high-resolution camera with a large field of view which captures images of the consumers’ eyes. Near-infra-red diodes are used to illuminate the consumers’ face and reflect patterns from the cornea. The eye tracker then hunts for two black dots – the pupils.

Once it has located the pupils, the system collects “gaze data” by taking up to 50 shots per second of the pupil. This results in real-time, accurate data of where the consumer is looking on any given stimulus, be it a product, article, advert or website.

“Once we have captured the eye tracking we can either replay what someone has looked at in real time, create a map of all their eye movements or create hotspot maps,” says Ronald. “Hotspots show us what people look at and, often more importantly, what they don’t look at. The redder the area, the more attention it got from consumers.”

Just a few days later, to the bemusement of Ronald, The Scottish Sun runs an eye-tracking test to see what men are looking at most on its famous page three. The results are obvious, but the tabloid’s experiment does show a growing awareness of the technology.

“Everything we do is tailored towards usability and accessibility,” says Ronald. “Eye tracking is just one technique that we use to provide those services. We still do a lot of interviews and customer profiling, but we’ve found that eye tracking is really good for testing an end product or final creative. It’s ideal for the marketing industry.”

Ronald continues to explain the benefits of the technology for media companies, especially those involved in advertising and website design. “If an agency has come up with four or five different creative executions, a lot of the decision-making process would traditionally come down to a gut instinct. However, everyone has a preference – but that is all it is, a gut like or dislike. They might then go to the client with the four or five different options and, again, the client is left to their individual preference. They’re not given four options with the benefit of hindsight.

“We can test for brand recognition, brand recall and competitor analysis. Focus group research only tells you what a subject thinks they are doing, not what they actually do. We’re supplying quantitative research on creative work – it’s not subjective.

“Ultimately we want clients to go to market with the most effective advert or website, without having to wait until it launches to find out what the teething problems are. That can now be done pre-launch thanks to the technology available. There hasn’t been an alternative to focus groups or traditional research methodology before. Now there is. It’s not the only alternative, but it is an alternative, and once people experience it and see the benefits, I think it will become engrained and as common as a traditional focus group.

“After we’ve worked with a client, we’ll return in three months to find out how the campaign worked. What were the cost savings? Is there something else we need to do?

“We’ve had some really good feedback so far. For websites, for the Department of Work and Pensions, we were able to show natural behaviour on a system as opposed to the traditional, talk-out-loud, ‘tell me what you’re thinking as you go through it’ research.

“We’ve also done a lot of work with Prudential and have saved them almost £150,000. We researched the company’s customer magazine and found, particularly in finance, that people don’t engage with longer articles. Prudential’s agency had recommended that they go with a bigger, 64-page format with longer, more in-depth articles. What also wasn’t working was that a number of pull-out boxes incorporated into the design were being ignored. In short, the design was hampering the readers’ interaction with the content.”

When The Drum points out that this form of testing could set limits on designers’ creativity, Ronald is quick to reveal that Tobii should be seen as another tool for designers, not a restriction. “We try to work with the designers,” she says. “It’s not about testing or qualifying what anyone does, it’s about giving them insights into the most effective way of doing something. Designers are in a very difficult position as clients often can’t articulate what they want effectively, so the designer is left in the dark and this leads to a lot of educated guess work.

“There are good designers and there are poor designers, but they all benefit from being given access to this kind of data so that they can really refine what they do. I don’t think they’ve had that opportunity before, but this is not about testing or qualifying their role.”

Bunnyfoot has been at the cutting edge of the Tobii system for a number of years. The agency is the UK trainer and reseller of Tobii and it has been working with the system since 2000. But, in terms of future development, Ronald is keen to expand Tobii’s scope.

“I’d like to develop more work with product packaging, fast-moving consumer goods, wireless technology, TV campaigns, product placement and in-game advertising, as well as making products more useable, more enjoyable and more accessible for everybody, no matter what media is being used,” she says. “The scope for using Tobii in conjunction with new media platforms is exciting.”


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