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Breaking Down Expert Blindness at SXSW 2018

In today’s complex media environment, where brands compete for consumers’ shrinking attention across multiple platforms, marketers can easily overlook a significant threat to the success of their campaigns: “expert blindness.”

As the name suggests, expert blindness happens when we subconsciously develop a bias as a result of our intimate and extensive knowledge of a particular subject. And that bias can hinder our ability to assess the subject and develop conclusions with unbiased eyes—an ability that marketers critically need in order to develop successful advertising.

Recently at SXSW, Nielsen’s Chief Neuroscientist Dr. Carl Marci had the opportunity to talk about the topic, teaming up with Honda and RPA Advertising’s Vice President Strategic Planning Director Richard Bina to showcase how neuroscience can help reveal the components of expert blindness.

During their presentation, Dr. Marci and Mr. Bina shared insights from a study Nielsen conducted for Honda, one of RPA’s clients. In the study, two separate groups watched an hour of television with the same programming, the same ads, in the same order, in the same environment, while biometric sensors measured their emotional engagement and eye tracking equipment measured their visual attention: one group consisted of Honda dealers (the “experts”) and the other comprised automotive shoppers intending to purchase a vehicle.

Both groups had nearly identical reactions to almost everything they saw on the screen: the TV programs, the ads for non-auto categories, and even auto ads that weren’t for Honda. But that similarity disappeared as soon as the Honda ads were shown, in a perfect reflection of nonconscious bias. For example, during an ad for the Honda Civic, Honda dealers showed stronger emotional engagement with the vehicle and lease deal, as evidenced by changes in their skin conductance and heart rate, while car buyers had stronger emotional engagement with the ad’s story. Additionally, eye tracking revealed that the Honda dealers’ level of visual attention during the lease deal increased to 97%, while car buyers showed significantly less attention to the same information. The combination of higher levels of emotional engagement and higher attention to the deal suggests a split: as experts, dealers value the information significantly more than car buyers.

This study highlights the challenge of expert blindness that marketers face every day. Understanding this challenge is particularly important so that decisions aren’t based on marketers’ preconceived notions regarding their products or services but rather on what their customers want. No matter how much industry experience marketers may have, they need to put their experience aside and shift their focus to what is needed to break through the clutter and distribute a message that will fully resonate with their target audience.

Pictured above (from left): Senior Analyst Stacy Weng, Dr. Carl Marci and Manager of Lab Ops Meghan Keleher.