Using Nielsen Neuroscience Data for Good

Rachel is a Client Service Director for Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience

Rachel is a Director of Client Service for Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience in Boston. In 2017, she became the primary account lead for the Ad Council, the largest non-profit organization dedicated to creating and deploying public service announcements (PSAs) in the U.S. Rachel manages research studies for Ad Council campaigns across a wide variety of focus areas, from promoting the adoption of children in foster care to educating former smokers about medical breakthroughs in early lung cancer detection.

While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I spent countless hours volunteering at the Boston College Campus School, designing and building custom adaptive equipment for children with multiple severe disabilities. While I was there, I also led two initiatives that resulted in partnerships between the school and a national home improvement retailer and a global strategy consulting firm, both of which donated their pro bono services to help the students and staff. After I graduated and transitioned into the corporate world, I was hopeful that I would be able to find a role in a company where I could use my skills and knowledge for the greater good.

Fortunately, I now help to manage Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience’s relationship with the Ad Council, a non-profit organization that produces and distributes public service announcements (PSAs) addressing some of our nation’s most pressing social issues. The Ad Council faces a number of challenges, including:

  • Breaking through media clutter with sensitive messages: PSAs, which address important but often sensitive or emotional topics like gun safety and emergency preparedness, compete for viewers’ attention alongside many other ads in an increasingly cluttered media landscape.
  • Optimizing their PSAs without breaking the bank: Creative agencies donate their services to the Ad Council to produce PSAs, so concepts and executions need to be optimized (and not simply discarded) so they stay within budget.
  • Inspiring behavioral change while overcoming pro-social bias: Many people will tell you they are going to donate to their local food bank or make an emergency plan with their family, but actually motivating them to do these things is much more difficult.

Given viewers’ reluctance (and inability) to consciously express how they actually feel about PSAs—particularly ones with sensitive messages—Nielsen’s consumer neuroscience technology is well suited to test this type of content. Our methodologies capture non-conscious, unbiased responses to the creative that don’t rely solely on what viewers are able to tell us.

Since the official beginning of our relationship with the Ad Council in 2013, we’ve tested over 100 PSAs, and we’re adding to that number every quarter. In 2018, we completed five research studies for the Ad Council and its clients, including government agencies and national non-profits. The assets we tested, which were mostly video PSAs, came from campaigns focused on a wide range of topics, such as promoting diversity and inclusion, fighting hunger, supporting Americans’ financial futures, and increasing awareness about a low-dose CT lung cancer screening test.

One of our favorite Ad Council case studies involves Jules the dog. Jules is a cute “spokes-animal” for The Shelter Pet Project, a non-profit that encourages people to adopt their new best friend from a shelter. Our test showed that Jules was able to drive a strong emotional response when he was on screen. However, he was so engaging that he pulled visual attention away from key components of the PSA’s call-to-action, the Shelter Pet Project URL and logo. Using this insight and others that we found, the team re-edited the PSA to improve its effectiveness and ensure that viewers looked at the important branding moments. In the first three months after the PSA aired, traffic to ShelterPetProject.org increased by 133%.

Our work with the Ad Council and its partners is especially rewarding for me. I have the opportunity to use our tools and data to derive insights that improve the effectiveness of PSAs with very important messages for the American public. These campaigns save lives, remind us that “only you can prevent forest fires,” and urge us to confront our own biases and make the world a more inclusive place.

I believe that a job is about more than just money; a job is about using our time and skills to create value in society. I’m happy to be able to lead research that is used not only by our corporate clients, but also by non-profits to benefit the greater good.