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Facial coding in Neuromarketing

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Facial coding, its evolution over the time

The concept that we reveal our true emotions with facial expressions was proposed in 1872 by the famous evolutionist Charles Darwin in his work: The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Darwin believed that mammals revealed their emotions with their faces.

However, the subject was not taken very seriously until the 1960’s, when Paul Ekman, a professor of psychology at the University of California, began studying the topic of facial coding.

Following his numerous trips abroad, he concluded that facial expressions such as fear, anger, sadness, joy, and surprise could be considered universal, biological, and therefore valid in all cultures.

In collaboration with Dr. Maureen O’Sulllivan, Ekman also developed a study, called the Wizards Project, on micro-facial expressions in order to understand if people were telling the truth or if they were lying.

These are small involuntary alterations in facial expression that may indicate, for example, anxiety and discomfort.

It turned out that only a small percentage of people could recognize deception naturally.

Ekman called these people the Truth Wizards.

The facial action coding system FACS


In 1978, Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen created the famous Facial Action Coding System (FACS).

FACS is a manual to identify facial micro-expressions and to give them a psychological meaning.

It’s a system that’s based on categorizing not just expression, but also the rest of the body.

How is facial coding used in Neuromarketing

In previous articles, we have analyzed various techniques including eye tracking to understand what can affect people and what excites them.

We’ve seen what mirror neurons are and how they affect people.

The use of FACS (Facial Action Coding System) is an infallible method to analyze emotional responses as our expressions never lie.

As demonstrated by various neuromarketing studies, the face is the main focus of attention of each (potential) client.

Through the face we can extrapolate details and information to be integrated into marketing strategies.

This technique is used a lot to understand the emotional components of people when they watch for example an advertisement.

Facial coding to understand true emotions

We have realized that emotions in nonverbal communication play a very important role.

Facial coding can determine whether an advertising campaign will work or not.

It is possible to evaluate the reactions to the characteristics of a proposed product, predict the future purchasing behavior related to a given product and more.

How does facial coding function?

The communication agencies specialized in Neuromarketing own the appropriate technologies to implement this type of technique.

We are talking about dedicated software systems, camera and webcams developed for a careful facial coding.

Using one of the above technologies, participants are asked to watch a spot, a mobile application, a website, a specific product, a design, smell a particular scent etc..

During the viewing, all micro-expressions of the participant are captured and recorded, and the overall emotional involvement compared to the displayed content is measured.

But what happens if the participants do not show emotions?

Although very rare, it can happen that a participant does not show any particular signs of emotion.

These are the so-called “poker faces”.

For this reason, the technique of facial coding is never used alone, but is integrated with other Neuromarketing tools such as eye tracking etc..

In this way you can get more detailed and complete information.

The final result of facial coding

With the combination of all the above mentioned data it is possible to obtain an overall result that sheds light on the following points:

  • How users unconsciously respond to individual aspects of a specific content
  • How a specific marketing content is overall perceived and experienced 
  • How content is perceived in relation to competitors  
  • What would be useful to be modified in order to make the content more effective

In conclusion, what do your customers think about your brand, advertising or product?

You can ask their opinion, but you can also read it of their faces.

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