The act of beholding is in the eye of this beauty


To London yesterday to get a glimpse of eye-tracking, an emerging new technology being employed by the advertising industry and news media to map our collective unconscious. I went to visit Bunnyfoot, a behavioral research consultancy based in the impressive Westbourne Studios in Notting Hill, who use a sophisticated machine that follows the movement of the eye as it scans across a screen.   

The two advertisements for Sunsilk (above) demonstrate how this works. Both have been given the full treatment: an arrangement of infrared sensors and cameras track the iris as it moves around the screen recording what people *actually* look at. You then get the image above, simple to read, with the red parts representing where people allowed their gaze to linger.

The difference between the two images is very subtle and demonstrates how a simple tweaking of a design can manipulate the eye towards a product. In the left hand image only 6% of people actually looked at the ‘pack shot’, focussing their gaze, instead, on the face of the pretty girl.  Once the image has been tweaked (simply by moving the eye of the girl to direct your gaze towards the product) the number that landed on the product, according to Bunnyfoot’s research, was 84%.

So what? Well from this a new kind of visual grammar could be developed, one that makes advertising much more effective at tapping into our unconscious desires. In a kind of moment of futureshock inspired by Minority Report, advertisers might know we want something before we do. If they don’t already. Little wonder Bunnyfoot’s business is booming. It opens its fourth office later this year.