Traditional ‘What do you think?’ style surveys struggle to deliver meaningful brand data on sponsorship because they’re dominated by cognitive questions. They do have strengths but mainly weaknesses when it comes to attitude measurement.

Currently, they’re failing the industry.



  • most demographic questions
  • fan media behaviour
  • viewing habits
  • product consumption



  • attribution
  • brand metrics
  • brand perception
  • purchase intent

Why is that?

Firstly, because our thinking is subject to a wide range of cognitive and implicit biases. Wikipedia has a healthy list here.

Secondly, according to Nobel prizewinner Daniel Kahneman : System 1 (fast) and System 2 (slow), our an analytic brain switches off when the energy required to answer a question is greater than the benefit

And if you think about the typical brand and purchase intent questions, the benefit is vastly outweighed by the effort.

Pre-conscious testing

Our preferred approach is governed by our Head and Heart paradigm.

We blend traditional surveys with tools to deliver pre-conscious sponsorship testing. Pre-conscious or pre-verbal testing  refers to the fact that nearly every word we speak is filtered and controlled by our analytic mind. When it comes to measuring emotions or attitudes, which generally reflect emotions, pre-conscious testing gives a much more accurate reflection of audience feeling.

These tools include standard surveys adapted to minimize cognitive interference, Implicit Association Testing and Galvanic Skin Response.  These successfully enable brands to understand the levels of emotional engagement of audiences and their success in achieving salience and affinity for the brand.

These tests can be administered online, allowing us to integrate with existing panel providers and with traditional quant surveys.

Implicit Association Testing

Implicit Association Testing is an online testing procedure, developed by psychologists at Harvard University to measure unconscious bias. Although some applications of IAT have been criticised, overall it’s been  overwhelmingly validated in numerous studies. For this purpose, it’s both robust and versatile and has many applications in marketing and sponsorship. In many ways, IAT provides the detail of qual with the scale of quant.

IAT uses variations in reaction times to pairs of stimuli to determine the associative strength between the stimuli. It’s pre-conscious because it isn’t asking respondents to articulate a response. Instead, it’s simply measuring their response times.

When the association is strong and instinctive, we are able to give an rapid System 1 response  : if the association gives us pause, literally, it’s because we’re having to deploy our  System 2, our analytic mind. This slower response indicates a weaker association. Please see here for a brief overview of Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 / System 2 paradigm.

In terms of application to sponsorship, IAT can provide a clear and  calibrated indication of how closely two concepts are associated, be that a property with brand values, sponsorship and a brand, key brand attributes with a sponsorship – many different dimensions of the brand impact arising from sponsorship. 

Galvanic Skin Response

GSR has benefited hugely from advances in technology, especially microprocessor size and capabilities as GSR can now be performed wirelessly and even without access to a wifi network, eg at events.

GSR, also known as electrodermal response is another approach to pre-conscious testing. The approach is based on the phenomenon that the skin momentarily becomes a better conductor of electricity when either external or internal stimuli occur that are physiologically arousing, bypassing the analytical mind.

Arousal is a broad term but widely considered to be one of the two main dimensions of  emotional response. Measuring arousal is therefore not the same as measuring emotion, but is an important indicator of it. Arousal has itself been found to be a strong predictor of attention and memory.


Participants usually have a GSR device strapped to their hand, which is a little inconvenient but is a reliable location as a result of the density of eccrine sweat glands, which are highly responsive to emotional and other psychological stimuli.

Conductance is measured by placing two electrodes next to the skin and passing a tiny electric charge between the two points. When the subject increases in arousal, his/her skin immediately becomes a slightly better conductor of electricity. This response can then be measured and communicated.

GSR is already being used to assess the emotional engagement of broadcast content and advertising, largely in the USA and largely by NBC.

We are working with the Portuguese company Mindprober to provider an integrated service with IAT to provide an alternative and more effective research protocol for sponsorship.

The output of GSR is similar to the heat maps of gaze tracking, but offers a more reliable indication of emotional arousal which can be complemented by other techniques to indicate valence (positive / negative).

Thankfully, there are enough pre-conscious testing tools to make this approach widely accessible for sponsors. Our approach, in terms of the blend of methodologies, is bespoke to each client. If you are currently using gaze-tracking, we recommend a discussion to explore the addition. We apply IAT to many aspects of sponsorship – across strategy, creative and execution, so again, a chat is recommended. We are also working with Decode to enhance our IAT offering and to further  complement this with AI tools trained on gaze tracking responses to still and video. imagery.

For blog content related to pre-conscious testing, please see below and search Psychology of Sponsorship on our blog page.

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