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Why the AutoSergei™ Compare the Market ad is a perfect example of video marketing that works: A biometrics and neuroscience review

Despite the high cost of television advertising in the UK, especially at peak times on some channels, many brands are still prepared to spend big on it. With the huge changes in the way that people consume TV that we’ve seen since watching shows on-demand became the norm, and online streaming and catch-up services becoming more popular, there are plenty of options out there for advertisers in the digital age. This means that video content made for TV doesn’t have to rely on that one platform alone – or spend the whole budget on it, it can also be used to advertise to a more carefully targeted audience on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more.

Promoting video content is one thing but creating an advert that resonates with your audience and succeeds in its objectives is no mean feat either. Whether you love or hate the talking meerkats, these anthropomorphic little guys have taken Compare the Market from a minor comparison site to the leader in its field. We have used Hit Search’s cutting-edge biometrics technology and neuroscience analysis to dig into why the latest advert, introducing AutoSergei™ to the world, works so well.


The rise of Compare the Market and ‘the Meerkats’

Originally part of Budget Group (now BGL Group), Compare the Market was founded in 2006 and the now-famous Meerkats were first seen in January 2009. In the previous year of 2008, Compare the Market was ranked the 16th most visited insurance website in the UK. Following their first TV campaign containing the Aleksandr Orlov Meerkat character, when the phrase ‘Compare the Meerkat’ was coined, they jumped straight to the 4th most visited insurance site and their sales doubled in that period.

Their brave move had paid off instantly. Before the campaign even launched, a huge amount of work had gone into it – to the extent of creating the comparethemeerkat.com microsite (which is still going strong over a decade later) and the strength of these characters is still helping the brand maintain a huge chunk of the market share, despite huge efforts by some of their competitors to outdo them on the TV advert front.

How can biometrics & neuroscience show how video content resonates with its audience?

Biometric technology is becoming a bigger part of daily life for many people. Whether it’s a heart rate monitor integrated in your fitness tracker or smartwatch, unlocking your smartphone with your fingerprint, or undergoing an iris scan when you go through airport security, the same kinds of technology that use physiological markers and responses to identify and measure things about you can also be used in a test situation for marketing insights.

The (mainly unseen) reactions and responses of our body cannot be faked or subdued, as we aren’t conscious of them in the first place. The way your heart rate rises when you see something exciting or react  isn’t something that you can stop, and in a similar way, what your eyes are attracted to and spend time focusing on when you’re watching a video isn’t something you’re actually aware of, as the movements are so quick and your brain tends to see and process only a small portion of what is actually on the screen.

Marketers have been using neuroscience for a long time to try and predict what their target audience want to see and will respond to. Whilst some take it too far and try to manipulate emotions in a way that isn’t exactly subtle, most brands simply know their audience well and try to produce advertising material that meets a need or want in their audience in a way they can relate to, to move them along their buyer journey towards a purchase decision or to try and make sure they are memorable. 

Think of the annual John Lewis Christmas ads or Lloyd’s Bank’s recent ads with their famous black horse; they all use a combination of elements designed to evoke feelings of nostalgia, even patriotism and various positive emotions, alongside a haunting and building soundtrack that culminates with their key message being presented to the watchers at just the point they are most invested in what they’re watching. We all know that we’re being advertised to, but when an advert connects with us on an emotional level, we don’t seem to mind as much!



What can biometrics and neuroscience show us about the Compare the Market video ad?

For the purposes of reviewing the AutoSergei™ advert, we used eye tracking technology to test 18 people, none of which had any idea of the purpose of our test. The eye tracking platform was calibrated for each test subject, then they were simply asked to watch the full advert, whilst their responses were tracked and recorded for later analysis. We also used heart rate and galvanic skin response technology to measure perspiration output, although these didn’t prove as insightful due to the short length of the advert.

We used eye tracking for this test because analysis shows that we aren’t actually always looking at what we think we are when watching something like video content. The focus of our eyes moves around every few milliseconds (known as saccades, which are the fastest movements of the body), sending parts of the scene back to the brain for processing and making up the bigger picture. If something we’re looking at grabs our interest, our gaze lingers on it for longer than normal (known as a fixation), which is captured when using eye tracking technology. Most people tend to subconsciously use the centre of a screen as the ‘home’ for their gaze; where their eyes return to more often than anywhere else. This is the reason why many adverts ensure most of the important things happen in this part of the screen, as it’s naturally where most of our attention is so we can process as much information as possible. This technology also monitors blink rate and pupil dilation.


The analysis:

We have embedded the video below with the eye tracking data from our test subjects overlaid. The circles increase in size the longer someone spends looking in the same place.

As this test was carried out on a small test group, the findings can give an indication of user response, but a full analysis would require further qualitative and quantitative tests.


  1. 1.

    See how the advert starts with Aleksandr in the centre of the frame. With nothing in the background, he draws all the attention

  2. 2.

    Higher than normal blink rate is sign of the brain working hard or being more engaged, so can indicate a higher likelihood of brand recall. In this advert, there is a high blink rate at the start of the advert and at the end (fireworks) followed by brand logo – It’s no surprise that this happens, and brand recall should be high as a result

  3. 3.

    As extra characters are added to the space behind him, the interest of those watching does exactly what the content creators want it to, focus in turn on the new character(s) as they briefly appear, but always returns to the middle. The point isn’t that people spend a long time looking at these characters and what they are doing, they merely collectively represent ‘life admin’

  4. 4.

    When ‘real’ Sergei appears in the background in the next shot, he is only noticed by a few of our test subjects, with the main focus still being Aleksandr in the centre

  5. 5.

    When ‘real’ Sergei appears in the background in the next shot, he is only noticed by a few of our test subjects, with the main focus still being Aleksandr in the centre

  6. 6.

    As the ad progresses, AutoSergei™ enters the fray and the types of service comparison that the brand offers start to appear around him. Interestingly, the two characters keep the most attention for longer, rather than the text and graphics appearing on screen. In fact, 76% of all quality fixations were on the three characters throughout the whole ad

  7. 7.

    Pupil dilation grew by 3% on average once AutoSergei™ was on the screen – the biggest gain was 7%

  8. 8.

    Car insurance comparison was the service viewed by the most people at this stage of the ad, which is probably no surprise as it is likely to be the most profitable area, due to the high number of people looking for this service and recurrence rates

  1. 9.

    When AutoSergei™ finds a cheaper energy deal, with just one large section of text displayed on the screen alongside the two characters, the focus of the audience shifts over at least partially to the text beside him; more so than at any other point during the ad

  2. 10.

    Now, as opposed to lurking around in the background, barely visible in his black Steve Jobs-esque rollneck, ‘real’ Sergei starts to gain attention from those watching for the first time in the ad; and the last

  3. 11.

    The advert finishes with the Compare the Market logo and slogan appearing alongside AutoSergei™, but the vast majority of the attention is held by the static robotised character. Virtually no one is even glancing at the character speaking, Aleksandr

  4. 12.

    Galvanic Skin Response didn’t fluctuate much throughout the ad, as would be expected with a short piece like this. However, changes were detected in some candidates around the time of the fireworks and ‘real’ Sergei walking off – showing the audience could be reacting to either of these things

  5. 13.

    The average heart rate of our subjects rose by 6% from their baseline heartrates when fireworks were introduced to the ad and Sergei walked off.

  6. 14.

    Pupils dilate under many different circumstances, one of which is cognitive difficulty. We noticed that most of our test subjects’ pupils dilated after a new character was introduced; this could highlight a person familiar with the brand failing to instantly recognise a new character

  7. 15.

    AutoSergei™ has the more than double the viewing time over the other characters – and had over 3x the number of fixations – possibly highlighting brand familiarity of established and new characters

  8. 16.

    There were a high number of quality fixations (above 0.3 secs) in the second half of the video compared to the first half

Why does the advert work well?

Compare the Market have cleverly managed to both celebrate and parody the tech launch stereotype in this ad; thus, appealing to both those potential customers who will happily tune in to the latest phone or tablet launch event live (even at unsociable times) and also those who laugh at the people who do so.

As with most of the Meerkat adverts, the ongoing subplot follows the classic trope involving the assistant being the brains behind everything and the one who does the least work receiving the glory. This is a concept that most people who have ever worked for someone else can identify with!

The emotional connection for the audience in this advert comes from the inequal relationship between Aleksandr and Sergei, which has been built on and reinforced repeatedly in the last decade of Compare the Market ads, with the occasional one breaking with the norm slightly to keep things interesting. If this was the first Meerkat advert you’d ever seen, you would be unlikely to have the exact same reactions as someone who has seen them regularly over the years, but Compare the Market have stuck to several tried and trusted principles with this ad, just in case.

Our eye tracking review picked up that the brand successfully:

  •  Placed the things they wanted people to pay special attention to in the centre of the frame

  •  Incorporated a strong human (or in this case, mainly anthropomorphic) relationship narrative throughout

  •  Made less important things, which often represented loose concepts, appear only peripherally and briefly

  •  Didn’t distract watchers from the main focus, as they introduced less exciting product details only briefly

Biometrics, Neuroscience and marketing

Conclusion – How biometrics and neuroscience can be used in other ways than assessing content e.g. predicting virality, CRO – bringing it back to our new service.

Many brands are now using neuroscience and biometric testing as part of their audience research and campaign development. As your biometric responses cannot lie, this data and insight can be used alongside other, more traditional sources, such as focus groups, to build a more rounded picture of your target audience and what resonates with them.

This type of tech can be used to help predict mass audience response to a new ad campaign, the virality potential of a video for social media or to test out people’s reactions to content on a potentially tricky or controversial subject matter.

Another growing use for biometrics and neuroscience is with advanced conversion rate optimisation and user testing on websites. Discovering how a brand’s target market are using a website currently, the things that frustate them or cause them to abandon a purchase, or the journeys through the site that they take, can all feed into a CRO strategy that can transform the number of people buying or converting. Find out more about advanced CRO using biometrics here.

Want to know more?

If you want to know more about how Hit Search uses biometrics and neuroscience to help our clients increase their conversions and test out content or campaigns

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