Read my reports from day two and day three of ESOMAR Congress 2011.

It's this time of the year again – the official beginning of autumn and the annual ESOMAR Congress.

The opening key note was given by Professor Richard Wiseman, a witty former magician turned psychologist (or maybe the other way round). Missing card tricks, illusions, floating corks, and figuring out the best time to tell a joke (apparently on the 15th of each month at 18:03) – the good professor provided ample proof that our eyes are deceiving our brains, our perceptions are unreliable and devoid of reality, and we are unable to predict our likely behaviour with any level of accuracy … all very entertaining but also food for thought.

After all, if one of MR's major objective is to collect data and predict behaviour it clearly is a challenge to find out what people are actually thinking? The lesson for MR: always challenge and don't just take responses at face value and probe deeper to get real insight.

The rest of the morning session was journey from mascara and cosmetics (LVMH Perfumes and In-Process Design Innovation) to global soft drinks (Coca Cola and Infotools) but it ended on more familiar grounds: Dutch beer.

During this journey I learned a lot about the amazing variety how women are using a simple mascara brush (one with a swivel motion no less) and there was much about 'the semiology of gaze', 'ergonomics and gestures', the 'eye of vulnerability and defencelessness' and the 'eye of a dominant predator'.

By way of explanation: it was a French paper. The Coca Cola paper was about money, market share, and financial goals and how they can be translated into marketing goals. Conventional tracking data gives snapshots of the present, but says little about the future. The challenge is to take a series of snapshots and project the forward to understand what the future might hold. Read the paper – it's all about bathtubs and pipes, where the tubs represent the various consumer segments and the pipes connect them an allow consumers to move between segments, say from non-brand user to brand user.

Heineken uses neuro-science in combination with traditional research (focus groups) to understand consumers' response to their ad campaigns. Heineken uses this approach to test both the concept (story board) and finished version of the TV commercials. Story boards often get better engagement scores from focus groups, because they require a lot of imagination from the respondent; biometric measures on the other hand can detect any potential weakness.

On the other hand the 'rational' focus group responses sometimes better explain results from biometric measurements. Conclusion: both approaches are necessary to provide consumer insight: biometrics in isolation has limitations, as does rational/qualitative questioning.

Refreshed after lunch (not by Heineken, I might add), there was a panel session on the use of online access panels. Valiant attempts to get the discussion focused on issues such as data quality, representativeness or comparability soon failed – legal issues started to monopolize the session. Maybe a sign of our times.

Other presentations in the afternoon session covered the effects of mobile location-based ads in a simulated supermarket setting using location congruent and location incongruent messages (no prices for guessing which ads worked better); the impact of gaming elements in surveys on respondent engagement and compliance; and a multi-country study of peoples' financial literacy and how this correlates with their life finance situation (overall a majority of consumers are fearful and insecure and financially under-informed).

With that I thought it was time for some practical taste tests of a certain Dutch beverage.

Browse all the papers from ESOMAR Congress 2011.