Measuring Visual Attention
Every time you enter a store, you are bombarded with thousands of products that are all vying for your attention. Even when you know exactly what you are looking to buy, you must scan through hundreds of products to find what you are looking for. Fortunately, the human brain is a precisely tuned, efficiency machine with various mechanisms that filter through a myriad of sensory input to ensure only select stimuli enter into conscious awareness. This has implications for consumer behaviour in the modern world. Brands must ensure that the packaging for their products is able to capture the attention of customers in the face of many competitors. At Mindlab, we have devised a number of tests that allow us to assess how easily/rapidly products are able to attract consumer attention.
To capture shelf standout, we use an experiment based on the principle of change blindness.
Automatic standout is how well a product/brand standouts on a shelf next to other similar products/brands. It is a measure of how likely a product is able to capture the attention of a customer in the supermarket. Automatic standout can be measured using the flicker test. The theoretical premise for this test is that individuals are quicker at noticing changes in objects that are dominant in their visual field. This theory is based on the phenomenon of change blindness, or inattentional blindness, which describes the inability to detect seemingly obvious changes to an object or scene.
In the standout test, participants are presented with a mock shelf filled with a range of products, i.e. bottles of vodka. This test typically consists of multiple trials. In each trial, one product on the mock shelf repeatedly flashes from clear to blurry. Participants are instructed to click on the flashing product as quickly as possible. If participants are quick at clicking on the image, it indicates that they were already paying attention to the product. Conversely, if they are slower, it shows that their attention had been drawn in by one or more of the other products on the shelf.
The automatic standout of a product is measured by the average time it takes for participants to locate the given product relative to competitors. This is a semi-implicit test that allows us to assess people’s unconscious visual biases. A limiting feature of the test is that as attention tends to be drawn to the centre of the screen, products in the middle of the shelf are advantageously positioned. This limitation can be overcome by randomisation of the layout of products on the mock shelf between trials, so that no product is constantly in the middle or on the edge.
To assess how easy it is for people to find different products/packaging designs amongst competitors (i.e. on a shelf in a supermarket), we implement a visual search task.
In this task, participants are presented with a lineup of similar products (e.g. bottles of rum) from different brands and are instructed to locate a specific product in the lineup as quickly as possible. By putting participants under time pressure, we force them to rely on mental shortcuts as they would for many real world decisions. The less time it takes a participant to correctly locate and click on given product, the higher the findability of the product. This test is especially important to ensure findability is not reduced when changing pack designs, e.g, for retaining current customers.