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Super Bowl Ads: How Eye Tracking Research Influences Advertising

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It’s that time of year again. Seemingly the only time during the year when people search out commercials on YouTube instead of skipping them in frustration on their TVs. The anticipation of the Super Bowl is as much about the entertaining corporate advertising as it is about professional football, and this year’s Super Bowl LI edition in Houston is no exception. FYidoctors takes a closer look at how our eyes intake advertising and the technology used to collect that valuable data.

The coveted championship game is one of the most watched television broadcasts in the U.S., with estimates that Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 was seen by at least 114.4 million viewers in America, becoming the highest-rated television broadcast in the country’s history. This makes for a high demand of the 58 30-second advertising spots available during the game (each costs on average $4.5 million USD).

To ensure companies recoup the exorbitant cost of ad time, marketers study the methodology of what gets brands noticed using eye tracking technology. It has long been known that where we place our gaze gives insight into what we pay attention to, how we behave, and even what we think. Studies have determined that repetition in advertising decreases the amount of attention we give, and that the second time a viewer watches an ad is the most important.

To record this type of data, an eye tracking device is attached to a pair of glasses that records where people look and how they move their gaze. Using software, the patterns and length of time a person looks at  a specific area of a visual display can provide much in the way of information. In digital media, researchers use heat maps created by the eye tracking device to study how subjects interact with advertising on different screens, including traditional monitors and laptops, as well as mobile devices. Companies can then optimize advertising based on user behaviour.

Studies have shown that we tend to follow the gaze direction of another person, and faces of babies and attractive people draw the longest gazes. You can find eye tracking of previous Super Bowl ads on YouTube. Companies such as Wix, Avocados from Mexico, Kia, Skittles, and Snickers have announced that they’ve bought ad time during this year’s Super Bowl. While predictions and rumours will swell, the direction their ads will go won’t be revealed until game day. In the meantime, feast your eyes on this iconic ad, widely considered the best Super Bowl advertisement in the game's history.