Why explore porn?

There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that our unconscious minds are steering our decision-making. Despite this, there’s a stubborn habit that we humans have – in the marketing industry and beyond – of clinging to both what we know, and what we’ve always done before. In consumer research, that means thinking that focus groups, surveys and digital analytics will reveal true consumer motivation. (They won’t).

Add to this the fact that neuroscience challenges our very notions of individual agency and autonomy, and it’s easy to understand why some people feel so uncomfortable with the potential of the field: it relies on one accepting and admitting that we’re not fully in control and aware of our decisions.

So we at Brainsights challenged ourselves: what could we investigate that would so obviously underline the core promise of unconscious measurement; that is, what could illustrate that what we say we like, and what we actually like are two different things?

As we pondered this, an adult entertainment company approached us. They wanted to document research into porn preferences using survey responses, in-camera interviews, and neuroscience. They then wanted to highlight create a new piece of video content built entirely on the neuroscience insights.

Sexual preferences are one of the most sensitive topics conceivable. Many people hide their sexuality and sexual orientation from others their entire lives, ashamed of their identity and in fear of how others will react.

By studying adult entertainment preferences using neuroscience and traditional methods, we could illustrate the core promise of neuroscience research.

And that’s exactly what we’ve done.

What porn teaches us about the future of marketing and content

The adult entertainment industry has long been a bellwether for where technology and society are headed.

Back in 2010, CNN documented the many ways that the adult entertainment industry has embraced new technology long before it becomes mainstream. As it reported, “on the internet, streaming video, credit-card verification sites, Web referral rings and video technology like Flash all can be traced back to innovations designed to share, and sell, adult content.” Before that, it was film, cameras and VCRs; since, it’s adopted robotics, virtual reality and augmented reality much earlier than the masses.

They’ve recently added another technology-driven innovation to that list: neuroscience-powered content.

One of the leaders in the industry, Brazzers, partnered with Brainsights to understand the unconscious minds of American porn consumers. They documented the experience and have used the insights they collected from American brains to create the first-ever porn scene using neuroscience.

While Brazzers isn’t the first company to use neuroscience research methods in their content creation process, they are the first to go on the record stating that they’ve created a net-new full-length piece of content derived entirely from neuroscience insights.

Why does this matter?

Actual emotional measurement to deliver an emotive product

By understanding how customers respond at the unconscious level to each critical production component - the characters, settings, positions (action), body types, storylines, etc – Brazzers can create much stickier content that aligns much more strongly with the preferences of their target. It’s emotional measurement for an inherently emotive product/experience.

This has major implications for all advertisers and content creators.

Aside from operating in an industry at the vanguard of technology in society, Brazzers – like every advertiser and business - is a content creator. Each creates content (products, experiences, advertising) that they hope will break through, resonate with consumers, be remembered and be used. And each operates at a moment where there is more competition for our attention than ever before.

That requires a new insight paradigm – one that can measure at scale the true emotional and physiological response of consumers to stimuli.

As the documentary reveals, people are inherently flawed in their ability to articulate their true preferences and motivations. For example, people said they preferred actors around their own age. Their brain data revealed something else entirely – a much stronger engagement with mature actors.

The business of sex has obvious intersections with everything from beauty and fitness, to fashion, dating and relationship services. Furthermore, every category from porn, politics, pot and personal care, to finance, food and fitness, involves people at best harmlessly misestimating their consumption behaviour, and at worst outright lying about it.

And every business is concerned with the needs of its customers, and wins based on their ability to out-service these needs versus their competitors. Getting to the truth of consumer motivation is a competitive advantage.

So the questions to marketers are:

Are you confident you’re using all the tools at your disposal to understand your customers?

Are you certain you’re creating the best content – ads, products, entertainment, education – to service the true needs of your customers?