Measuring Immersion On the Go

Mobile Immersion Neuroscience Applications

The Problem

Companies spent $29 billion on outdoor advertising in 2017, spending that has been increasing by nearly a billion dollars a year.  An average company will spend about 10% of their marketing budget on outdoor promotion. Billboards, both posters and digital, are in your face— it is hard not to see them simply based on size and location, but does this form of advertising really work?  The global outdoor advertising company JCDecaux asked us to measure how much information in their billboards was getting into the brain. We all agreed that the study had to be done in a busy urban space where there is a lot of competing stimulation. So, we jetted off to Copenhagen and set up shop in one of its busiest shopping districts, Nørreport.


The impact  of outdoor advertising is currently assessed using the number of “impressions” it produces.  Impressions depend on how many people walk and drive by and are estimated to see the billboard.   We wanted to improve these estimates by directly measuring how many people actually saw the billboard, for how long they saw it, and how immersive the information was to their brains.   The new Immersion Neuroscience mobile app, paired with eye-tracking glasses or more simply a wearable camera like a GoPro, allows us to easily measure immersion for people on-the-go. Using this approach, we paired what people saw with the effect it had on their brains.

Participants were asked to walk a specific route in Nørreport and we asked them to notice any advertising on their journey.  The walk took about three minutes. Then, we asked volunteers to go into the Nørreport metro station, take an escalator down to the train platform, and then return to the station entrance taking an escalator back up.


#1 Outdoor advertising attracts visual attention, averaging around two and a half seconds of visual fixation one to two times per billboard.

#2 The brief visual burst was enough to generate an immersion spike.  The outdoor billboards in Nørreport, all of which were digital, generated average neurologic immersion that was 21% higher than the Immersion Neuroscience benchmark for TV commercials.  This is a full standard deviation above median video immersion and confirms the impact of outdoor advertising.  

#3 The most immersive billboards have foot traffic but are not “crowded out.” High immersion billboards were in a sweet spot. They were those that were separated from other advertising and shops and had a moderate amount of foot traffic; too many pedestrians occluded the billboard. Put simply, study volunteers were overwhelmed by competing distractions to adequately attend to, and immerse into the experience.

#4 Think of ad placement beyond mere foot traffic. The subway study also held surprises.  The Danes neither saw nor were immersed in advertising posters going into the metro.  Why? They did not see any advertising because they were task-focused, which was getting to the platform.  It was just the opposite on the way up from the metro: the majority of people visually explored their environment and were immersed in the advertising.  Immersion in billboards when participants were exiting the station exceeded our advertising benchmark by a strong 18%.

We were thrilled with how easy it was to run a customer journey study, and so were our friends at JCDecaux. Esben Hørning Spangsege, Head of Digital Business Innovation at JCDecaux in Denmark said about the Immersion Neuroscience platform:

“… we can offer advertisers live immersion tests of their content so they can get the greatest immersion and hence the best effect from their content.”  

That is exactly why we developed this technology: to improve content, how it is shown, and where it is shown.  Our mobile app is currently being used to optimize in-store shopping, customer support, live events, and online user experience studies.

Key Take-Aways:

  1. Outdoor advertising is a valuable marketing channel. These ads are neither ignored and can be as effective or better than television ads.
  2. Placement matters beyond foot traffic. Simply relying on impressions (e.g., foot traffic) does not measure the impact of the context (which we find greatly impacted immersion).
  3. Outdoor advertising can be improved by measuring immersion of ad content and location rather than impressions. This is possible as the Immersion Neuroscience mobile app is easy to use to measure and improve many live experiences.

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