Mechanical Observation – Market Research

In both natural direct observation and contrived observation, it was assumed that humans were used as observers. A number of imaginative methods of mechanical observation and device for making such observations have been developed. One of the most widely known devices of this type is the audiometer, a device used by the A C Nielsen Company to record when radio and television sets are turned on and the stations to which they are tuned. The newest generations of this system uses the Storage Instantaneous Audi-meter. This device automatically stores in electronic memory data on television stations tuned in. Nielsen has a central computer that dials these memories on the telephone twice a day and collects the information from them.

To determine how many and which specific people were watching the TV at any given time. Nielsen has relied on diaries kept by the household residents. Then Nielsen switched to the use of a “People Meter” a device that can be held in the hand and has a number for each member of the household, which he/she is asked to punch when viewing TV. This seems to be a definite improvement but has caused great furor among TV networks and advertisers because the resulting audience size for specific shows was significantly different from that previously reported.

Another device for making observations is the psycho-galvanometer. This machine measures minute emotional reactions through changes in the rate of perspiration, much like a lie detector. Advertisements can be tested for relative impact by showing them to respondents and measuring the emotional response of the respondent on the galvanometer. More recently a computer based technique for analyzing changes in voice pitch has been found effective in measuring changes in emotional reaction. This has been used to test reactions to advertisements and to new products.

The eye camera is a device to record the movements of the eye. A respondent can be given an advertisement and the eye camera can then be used to record the movements of the eye in looking at the ad – what parts are noted first, in what sequence the various copy blocks are read and what parts attract the longest attention. Similar analyses can be made of consumer reactions to packages or to pictures of many brands displayed on store shelves.

The eye camera voice pitch and psycho-galvanometer tend to be limited to laboratory settings; therefore questions are raised as to the bias of observation in unnatural circumstances and when respondents know they are being observed. The audiometer raises more subtle questions. This device is placed on the radio or television set in a manner that has no effect on the way these appliances are used. Even though the subjects can use their radios and television sets in a normal manner there is some questions whether or not they will be natural if they know they are being observed. Will the family that knows its television set has an audiometer on it watch the same programs, no more or no less, than it otherwise would? Research on this question indicates that whatever occurs when the audiometer is placed on the television set soon wears off. On the other hand, a small bias does occur because some families, ones who view television relatively little on the average, will not permit audiometers to be placed on their sets.

The laser scanners used to read the product codes in supermarkets are generally believed to be the new development that will have the greatest effect on marketing research in the near future.

One industry source estimates that scanning may be economically viable in stores with sales of $80,000 a week or more. Such stores do about half of all grocery sales and are the leading stores. This means, of course that insofar as sales in smaller stores are different, manufacturers will not have a complete picture of their sales. There are also many technical and organizational problems still to be worked on to make scanning data accurate. Every product must be coded, clerks must ‘scan’ each item purchased, methods must be found for scanning cumbersome items and codes must be so printed that the equipment can read them correctly.

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