To explore whether advertising featuring real people in real situations produces a different emotional response from big budget ads featuring celebrities and special effects, I conducted an experiment with Sensum, which specialises in emotion research and measurement.
For the test I wore finger sensors that measure microscopic levels of sweat on the hands, also known as galvanic skin response. The more the hands sweat, the more emotionally engaged the participant is with the media they are viewing. I then watched a TalkTalk ad from Christmas 2014 featuring loud music and animation, followed by the brand’s current ‘This Stuff Matters’ ad, which is a quieter spot showing a real family in their home, going about their daily lives.
The test showed I was more engaged with the This Stuff Matters ad, registering a Sensum index score of 47 (100 is the most engaged possible) compared to a score of 35 for the Christmas ad. A response chart shown in real-time also showed that there were more spikes in my engagement with the current advert. Sensum analyst Anna Zajac suggests this could be because of the different stories and humourous moments shown in the ad.
Social realism is not necessarily a route to more engagement and execution is hugely important to how audiences respond.
I also compared adverts from Aviva, first watching one with former brand ambassador, comedian Paul Whitehouse, followed by a recent ad featuring real people for the Aviva Drive App Challenge campaign. My engagement was higher for the celebrity campaign, registering a score of 42, versus 31 for the Drive App Challenge spot. This suggests that social realism is not necessarily a route to more engagement and that execution is hugely important to how audiences respond. For example, I may have found the storytelling, staging or people cast in the Aviva advert less interesting and engaging than in TalkTalk’s This Stuff Matters advert.