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Feeling good

The role of emotion in effective ads

Frédéric Marvillet

Expert Consultant, Brand & Shopper Activation

Kantar TNS



Before discussing the role of emotions in advertising effectiveness and how to generate them, it is important to go back to the definition of emotion. Indeed, the definition of an emotion is complex, insofar as it involves different responses: physiological (our body), cognitive (our mind) and behavioral (our actions).

My pocket Larousse dictionary defines emotion as "a complex psycho-physiological change and a high-intensity of state of mind, usually caused by stimulation from the environment". Emotions shape our opinions and guide our behavior. Hence the keenness of brands to generate a strong emotional response through their advertising messages.

There are two types of emotion: primary, such as joy or anger; and secondary, which are more complex combinations of several emotions, such as pride or guilt.

Emotions are universal; they are expressed in the same way, regardless of culture. The expression of anger or sadness is perceived in the same way, everywhere, by everybody. Consequently, emotions play an essential role in advertising effectiveness. If an advertisement generates a positive emotional reaction, it has a better chance of being noticed and then remembered. This allows the brand to reinforce the consumer's emotional reaction to it, and it happens in three ways.

1 Emotional advertising promotes attention and memory

Emotions have a significant role in memory. Faced with an important emotion, our brain stores information more easily and for longer. This is called emotional marking. The intensity of the emotion can affect how long the impact of a message is remembered. For example, we all recall graphic road safety advertisements aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of the road. The use of shock images is intended to elicit strong negative emotions and keep them in drivers’ memories. This can also be done with positive imagery – such as the 2001 ad many of us still remember for ChocoSui's dessert creams. Featuring a little boy and his goldfish, Maurice, the ad told a touching and humorous story about the silly things we try to hide.


 2 Emotional advertising can positively influence brand associations

It is widely recognized today that emotions fuel « System 1» decision making – the term coined by psychologist Daniel Kahneman to describe the kind of automatic, intuitive and implicit decisions people make. Through advertising, the advertisers’ objective is to shape the mental representations of brands and to ensure that positive associations spontaneously come to consumers' minds, thus influencing their judgment. For example, when you think of Coca-Cola, associations that spontaneously come to mind are the images of the different product variants, the unique taste, the pleasure of sharing, and the feeling of freshness.

3 Emotional advertising helps decision making

The human being is motivated to maximize positive emotions and minimize negative emotions. Our brain has a "reward system" that allows it to record pleasant and unpleasant sensations, and avoid repeating the unpleasant ones. We tend to buy brands that put us in a state of emotional wellbeing. Advertising that makes the viewer feel good will predispose them towards buying the brand.

 Emotions are unique to each individual, but experience has shown that some elements of emotional advertising work better than others and are more likely to generate a positive emotional response. Analysis of the AdEffect database shows that humor, music, celebrities, and the presence of children or animals can facilitate a positive emotional response.

Using a very evocative and convincing narrative can also be an effective lever. Emotion is not opposed to reason, so we can differentiate these two concepts without contradicting them. Indeed, the presentation of factual information can also evoke an emotional response if it is very resonant.

Finally, beyond these ingredients, it is the accuracy and the way in which a brand uses these levers that will determine how an ad or a brand is remembered, how the brand image is constructed in the mind of the consumer, and how they recall it at the time of purchase.