An emotional model of advertising

Emotion is central to advertising effectiveness and we need to embrace it in our models of measurement, argues Orlando Wood, innovation director at online research agency BrainJuicer.

Orlando Wood
Orlando Wood

Neuroscience and psychology have told us a great deal about the way the mind works. We’re gradually realising that emotions guide and bias our decision-making, and indeed are essential for it; that without our emotions we make poor decisions, and in fact, struggle to make decisions at all. Emotions shape our behaviour and responses to everyday situations.

Yet marketing and market research have been slow to embrace emotion as a leading indicator of future behaviour. Emotion plays a peripheral role in most pre-testing techniques as an agent for cut-through, if it plays one at all.

Why do we give emotion such a peripheral role in our advertising models? Because it is difficult to measure? Because historically and culturally, emotion has always been seen as the enemy of sound decision-making? Whatever the reason, the persuasion and information-processing models remain the dominant approach.

The advertising pre-testing and tracking techniques we use today are largely founded on the information-processing theory that the communication of a well-branded message with the impact to gain our conscious attention is the only route to effectiveness.

Yet there are many examples of the limitations of the established information-processing model in the marketplace. Tropicana’s Breakfast in New York ad was deemed in traditional tracking to have poor cut-through, yet it achieved high levels of emotional response when tested using BrainJuicer’s emotional measure. It was an ad that, in research, did not appear to communicate a message strongly. Yet it achieved 11% growth for the brand, reduced price elasticity by 40% and achieved an ROI of £1.83 for every £1 spent.

And then there are numerous ads for the Cadbury brand. Thank You, a highly emotional ad for Cadbury’s Chocolate Digestives, dramatises the joy people feel upon discovering Cadbury’s Chocolate Digestives, all to the uplifting gospel standard backing track of ’Oh Happy Day’. The ad performed strongly on BrainJuicer’s emotional measure, yet only 7% of the sample played back the intended message correctly. For an investment of just under £1 million, the advertising generated an additional £2.59 million in sales.

And what about that Cadbury Gorilla ad? Well, it achieved poor scores on the traditional measures of persuasion/makes me want to buy and was also derided by parts of the industry as having poor branding. Yet, it was credited for boosting Dairy Milk revenues by 9% during the period of the campaign and by 5% over the whole of 2007, and achieved one of the highest emotional response scores BrainJuicer has ever seen.

Fame ads like this develop authority for the brand precisely because the branding is subtle and there is no clear product message; they are bold enough in one sense to speak for the whole category, and let the product speak for itself. They aim to generate a brand feeling, rather than connect a product message to a brand. A new model for a digital age, one could say. A key factor, perhaps, in Cadbury’s high ratings in recent brand valuations and their appeal to sweet-toothed suitors from across the Atlantic.

BrainJuicer has just conducted an experiment that suggests that emotional response is a better predictor of hard business effects such as share and profit gain, and reduction in price sensitivity, than traditional evaluative measures such persuasion or brand linkage, which actively discriminate against highly effective emotional ads. The experiment uses IPA effectiveness data and indicates that emotional advertising is actually more efficient than message-based advertising. Indeed, the experiment suggests that emotion is not just a vehicle for message, but a viable communication strategy in its own right.

Orlando Wood will expand on the role of emotions in advertising at the Market Research Society’s annual conference Research 2010, from 23-24 March 2010 in central London.


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