News Release

STUDY: Eye-tracking marketing research boosts public transportation agency’s ridership

Changes improved effectiveness of ad campaign and helped drive a significant increase in ride voucher redemptions

Reports and Proceedings

University of South Florida


image: The data showed participants tended to focus on faces, the left side of the ad and messages surrounded by white space. Areas of the ad least noticed were on the bottom and especially on the bottom right. view more 

Credit: University of South Florida

TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 4, 2023) – Eye-tracking technology and social marketing have helped drive an increase in ridership for one of Florida’s largest passenger rail services.

A study by an interdisciplinary research team at the University of South Florida boosted a Florida Department of Transportation program that promotes alternatives to commuters who drive alone by improving the impact of its marketing campaigns.

Key outcomes included:

  • A 24 percent improvement in the effectiveness of marketing materials after revisions suggested by the research were made.
  • A significant increase in the number of ride vouchers redeemed for free Uber service to and from rail stations thanks to a redesigned flyer incorporating eye-tracking feedback.

The team monitored the eye movements of 60 participants as they studied various ads and videos, such as the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority’s promotional video of a new commuter app and a Delaware Commute Solutions flyer. Eye-tracking software generated heat maps and metrics of areas of interest, revealing clear patterns of focus.

The data showed participants tended to focus on faces, the left side of the ad and messages surrounded by white space. Areas of the ad least noticed were on the bottom and especially on the bottom right. Study participants also answered a series of questions to provide a measure of the materials’ perceived effectiveness in persuading drivers to alter their commuting behavior.

Based on the findings, the team generated guidelines to revise the marketing materials and improve their effectiveness. When they retested the materials, they noted improvement in comprehension, attractiveness, acceptability, relevancy and persuasiveness.

The results were even more impressive for the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority’s campaign to encourage Tri-Rail ridership by offering free Uber ride vouchers to and from its rail stations, located between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, to resolve first and last mile connection issues. The initial flyer resulted in only a third of people who downloaded a voucher using it. After learning about USF’s new guidelines and making adjustments, a majority of vouchers were redeemed.

As part of a collaboration with the Florida Department of Transportation, researchers from the USF Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR), a College of Public Health Social Marketing expert and the Muma College of Business Center for Marketing and Sales Innovation tested a variety of materials from Commuter Assistance Programs across the country to develop data-driven marketing guidelines to improve the effectiveness of commuter marketing efforts.

“It leveraged our skills,” said Robert Hammond, director of the Center for Marketing and Sales Innovation in the Muma College of Business. “This project provided us with an exciting opportunity to collaborate, be a resource for our community partners and leverage our Customer Experience Lab’s unique assets to provide novel insights.”

Jeremy Mullings, project director for the South Florida Commuter Services, shared the results during a recent webinar hosted by Best Workplaces for Commuters.

“We applied the lessons learned from the CUTR effort and we redesigned our flyer,” Mullings said. “What we found was by making these changes, it was a huge success and a lot of that we attribute to the creatives for this flyer because we basically use this design for everything.”

Lead investigator Mahmooda Khaliq Pasha, associate professor of social marketing in the USF College of Public Health, said the guidelines and outcomes will inform new projects coming down the pipeline.

“This work will be instrumental in allowing us to develop communication materials and strategies that are personalized, targeted and relevant for our target populations,” Pasha said.

The USF team hopes the results will help additional transportation programs make further improvements and believes the findings could be widely applicable to marketing materials in a variety of industries.

“Professionals don’t necessarily need to do the neuromarketing test to find out what could be improved with their materials,” said Phil Winters, director of Transportation Demand Management program at CUTR. “The value lies in the best practices we found – those can be used to improve marketing materials without testing.”

About the University of South Florida

The University of South Florida, a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success, generates an annual economic impact of more than $6 billion. Over the past 10 years, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings than USF. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, USF is designated as a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, placing it in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities. USF has earned widespread national recognition for its success graduating under-represented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference. Learn more at

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