The BBC is using facial coding and eye tracking to prove its branded content works

Proving the effectiveness of branded content has been an industry fixation in 2017, BBC StoryWorks, the branded-content arm of the broadcaster’s commercial division BBC Global News, is offering clients facial-coding and eye-tracking tools to show its branded content works, the fruits of two years of research.

Chinese phone maker Huawei is the first client to use these tools for its four-part video campaign “The Explorers.” One of the two-minute videos features an interview with former NASA astronaut Ron Garan. The content is viewed by a sample of the BBC’s global panel of 12,000 members — for Huawei, the sample was 400 — with facial-recognition and eye-tracking software activated through their desktop webcams. Facial movements are recorded on a second-by-second basis and then divided into six possible emotions: sadness, puzzlement, happiness, fear, rejection and surprise. Eye-tracking software indicates which part of the content, which could also be text-based, triggers the emotion.

After the campaign, StoryWorks offers analysis on how the content delivered against brand metrics. Compared to a control group, those who saw the Huawei campaign recorded a 216 percent increase in brand awareness, a 23 percent uptick in brand association and a 19 percent increase in purchase intent, according to the BBC insights team, which couldn’t share exact numbers.

“We want to use science to ascertain the emotional impact of content,” said Richard Pattinson, svp of BBC StoryWorks. “We see a clear correlation between audience engagement and brand impact; we want to use this when we commission with our partners. My focus in 2018 is to understand engagement better. We’re long past engagement [for content] being dwell times and pageviews.”

BBC Global News’ insights team has been researching how emotion relates to brand metrics for the last two years. Its “Science of Engagement” study, in partnership with facial-coding company CrowdEmotion, has won awards.

“We see a strong correlation between serious emotions like fear and positive uplifts in brand awareness,” said Pattinson. “Eliciting more challenging emotions is legitimate. It demonstrates empathy and understanding as a brand.”

Understanding which part of content elicits an emotional response can play into a brand’s distribution strategy. For instance, audiences might feel puzzled during a certain section of a two-minute video, which could then be cut and distributed on social media with the idea that more people will share it.

As with most data-related decisions, these tools are more likely to reinforce hunches rather than break new ground. Pattinson notes that they are not used to create ideas but achieve better cut-through in a crowded content market. “This is the science that helps the art show its full potential,” he said. “It demonstrates why it has been effective for the brand.”

Pattinson also said the tools could help brands understand what content relates to which part of the purchase funnel, which could inform distribution cycles, depending on the campaign objectives. For Huawei, the campaign objectives were more about driving awareness than driving purchase. Four other brands are using StoryWorks’ tools to help demonstrate brand outcomes as a result of emotional engagement, although StoryWorks couldn’t disclose their names. With this added research, the hope is clients are more likely to renew contracts with StoryWorks. Media companies like Vice and The Telegraph are increasingly beefing up the information they can give to clients to prove the effectiveness of their ads.

Since April, StoryWorks has closed over a hundred branded-content deals globally. In early 2016, Pattinson said revenue from branded content was roughly 30 percent of overall ad sales; now, he said it’s closer to 45 percent. StoryWorks has offices in London, New York, Singapore and Sydney with roughly 36 employees, including strategists, project managers, writers, developers and social media managers, among others.

As StoryWorks offers the tools to more clients as planned, it will need to hire more staffers, particularly because post-campaign analysis is bespoke, depending on campaign objectives. “This can only be valuable with the right degree of attention,” said Pattinson, “but bits of it are very scalable.”

Image courtesy of BBC StoryWorks

More in Media

AI Briefing: Senators propose new regulations for privacy, transparency and copyright protections

A new bill called the COPIED Act aims to pass new transparency standards to protect IP and guard against AI-generated misinformation.

Media Briefing: Publishers reflect on ad revenue midway through 2024 

Some publishers say ad revenue is pacing 15% up year over year while others are still managing their expectations for how 2024 will shake out.

Teads is exploring sale options as M&A in ad tech heats up

Sources state the Altice-owned stalwart of outstream video has recently held talks with private equity and strategic players.