WPP buys into mind-reading firm Affectiva, merges PR outfits Finsbury and RLM

WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell is seen by many as the Darth Vader of the marcoms world and some of his latest moves will serve to reinforce that impression.

Yesterday WPP announced that its research subsidiary Kantar was to invest $3m, peanuts by WPP standards, in Affectiva, a US tech firm that measures consumers’ emotional responses.

Affectiva sounds straight out of the old Vance Packard book Hidden Persuaders. One of its products is the Q Sensor, a wearable biometric device used to measure emotional states such as excitement, attention, anxiety and relaxation.

Another is Affdex, a piece of software that monitors and codes viewers’ facial expressions and interprets how they are responding to what they see.

All this stuff is designed to provide a more rigorous analysis of consumers’ responses to ads etc than you get in a conventional focus group where you look at reactions through a glass. But critics will say it strays into the realm of mind-bendery, which some of them also said about WPP’s recent formation of Xaxis, an information unit that it boasts possesses the consumer profiles of over 600m people.

If Rupert Murdoch possessed any such thing there’d be hell to pay.

Meanwhile WPP-owned Finsbury, the City PR firm it bought from Roland Rudd (pictured) for £41m in 2001, is to merge with another WPP PR outfit US-based Robinson Lerer and Montgomery to form a new global PR company Finsbury RLM.

Rudd will be executive chairman, Walter Montgomery CEO.

Finsbury is the second-largest UK financial PR firm after Alan Parker’s Brunswick. As a global operation Finsbury RLM will be a relative minnow with just 180 employees in a handful of offices. But it is planning to open up in Hong Kong, presumably so that Rudd and Montgomery can sell their dark arts to the many companies listing on Far Eastern stock exchanges.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.