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Implicit response testing shows public views of chocolate brands

Implicit Response Testing

One way in which Populus is able to offer crucial insight into how brands are perceived by the public is through our use of implicit testing. This methodology, a variant of which won the MRS Operations Award for Best Data Solution in 2016, makes use of respondents’ unconscious reactions to engage not only with how they feel about particular brands, but also the strength of that feeling. This is useful, for example, in gauging the public’s feelings towards leading confectionery brands, as demonstrated below. It is an important juncture for these brands, with initial responses to the sugar tax having been positive, and with Populus research demonstrating some willingness on the part of MPs to introduce a tax on chocolate/confectionery – only fractionally more (41% to 39%) believe such a tax would be unacceptable than acceptable.

How does Implicit Response Testing work?

The principle behind implicit research is that we ask respondents to give their immediate reactions to a brand or concept, and the speed of their response indicates the strength of their implicit reaction.

  • In psychology and behavioural economics the term ‘implicit research’ describes research approaches that are able to bypass people’s rational, conscious thoughts (which feed into ‘system 2’ decision making) and assess their automatic (‘system 1’) attitudes and reactions.
  • Instead, system 2 decision making is generally reserved for big decisions about which we are prepared to spend a lot of attention (whether to change career, which university to attend etc.)
  • Conversely, response to brands and marketing is influenced by unconscious associations and automatic processing known as system 1. This is the system we use to make impulsive, snap decisions, such what to buy in a supermarket – a decision influenced by a range of factors and distinctive assets discussed in the article. Here, Populus also draws on behavioural economics to explore how brands need to understand the key features driving consumers unconsciously to their product. Most of the time, research respondents may simply be unaware of or unable to articulate their ‘true’, unconscious attitudes or behavioural motivations towards brands.
  • Understanding these system one processes allows access to the entire multitude of emotional and motivational processes (most of which are unconscious) that ultimately determine our behaviour, complementing research focused on system 2 processes representing our conscious choices.


In conjunction with Dr Alistair Goode, Populus has devised a test that provides a picture of views which are not consciously held, but nevertheless inform people’s choices, by accessing their system 1 responses.


First of all we introduce the concept of the subject we wish to test through a series of adjectives and their antonyms. In the example below, we test various confectionary brands; however, this methodology is equally applicable to products, logos, advertising campaigns or industries as a whole. This methodology is particularly useful where there is a ‘socially acceptable’ response to the questions we want to ask.

From this, we deduce not only the unconscious feelings people hold about products and brands, but also the strength of those feelings. This gives us a two dimensional output, as seen in the examples below.

What does it look like?

We have previously delivered insight and expertise on a range of issues affecting the confectionary industry, such as MPs’ views on the sugar levy, and public views on food labelling.

Implicit testing allows us to create a two-dimensional metric of people’s perceptions of confectionary brands, with people’s likelihood of associating a particular attribute with a brand on one axis, and the strength of this feeling on the other. From the graphs below about four brands (Thorntons, Cadbury, Hotel Chocolat and Lindt), we can see, for example, that:

  • All four brands are more associated with positive than negative adjectives.
  • Familiarity is a key strength of Cadbury and Thorntons; Hotel Chocolat has further work to do should it wish to cement its place in the public consciousness.
  • While only Cadbury is not viewed as expensive, none of the brands are strongly considered to be poor value, suggesting consumers feel that, even with ‘expensive’ brands, you get what you pay for.
  • This suggestion is supported by the fact that the three ‘expensive’ brands all score highly in terms of being ‘high quality’ – though Cadbury is not far behind.




Hotel Chocolat


While the overall picture for all four brands is positive, Populus’s research provides an additional level of detail. This allows companies to focus their resources on areas of their brand where the potential return on investment is greatest. They can then compare the public’s perception with internal brand aspirations at a more precise level of detail.

Populus’s award-winning implicit response research has been developed and refined alongside behavioural psychology experts. For more information, or to find out how your business could benefit from this innovative tool, contact Populus via email at info@populus.co.uk or by calling +44 [0] 207 253 9900

Populus interviewed 2,090 UK adults (18+) in a nationally representative online survey between 27 and 29 April 2018. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at www.populus.co.uk

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