FEATURE1 June 2011

Let’s get emotional about ads

Behavioural science

Orlando Wood says emotions offer a better approach to pre-testing.

Anyone with an interest in how humans make decisions will have come across the notion of ‘system one’ and ‘system two’ thinking. These are terms used by Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning behavioural scientist, to describe the two mental processes we use to make decisions.

System one is perceptual and intuitive, generating involuntary impressions. It is fast to react, automatic and learns gradually over time. System two, on the other hand, is analytical and slow to react, but flexible enough to assimilate and process new information.

Behavioural scientists have shown that our capacity for processing information using system two thinking is very limited, so instead we are often happy to trust a ‘gut’ judgement that comes easily to mind (system one). Like it or not, our system one mind is responsible for many of our everyday decisions, judgements and purchases.

This has fundamental implications for the way we think about advertising. The traditional view is that, in order to be effective, advertising needs to communicate a well-branded and persuasive message that gains the viewer’s conscious attention. In other words, we think about advertising entirely in system two terms. This thinking dominates the research industry’s measures – persuasion, brand linkage, cut-through, key message – which are all evaluative system two concepts. But if so many of our decisions and judgements are made using intuitive gut feel, how do we measure that, and could it be more predictive of real-world business effects?

BrainJuicer recently conducted two experiments to examine the predictive ability of both traditional system two advertising measures and BrainJuicer’s emotional measure, FaceTrace, in which participants choose from pictures of a face in seven different emotional states in order to express their responses, which are then aggregated into an emotional score.

Psychologists assert that emotions are an important component of system one judgements, not only influencing what we pay attention to (the traditional role for emotions in pre-testing) but channelling the subsequent thoughts and associations, simplifying our decision and guiding our judgements.

Working with UK advertising body IPA, BrainJuicer post-tested 18 TV ads from various categories, with different levels of marketplace effectiveness. We looked at data reported to the IPA by the advertisers on ‘very large business effects’ from the ads – including gains in market share, reduction of price sensitivity, customer acquisition and increases in profit.

The ads that performed well on the traditional system two measures (persuasion, cut-through, brand linkage, message delivery) were actually less effective in market than the nine ads performing poorly on these measures. In fact, designing the advertising to perform well on such measures may work against effectiveness. Meanwhile, the nine most emotional ads delivered greater business effects than the nine least emotional ads.

Keen to investigate whether this was just a UK phenomenon, BrainJuicer retrospectively tested four TV ads in Canada in 2010 that had won Cassies (the country’s ad industry awards) for their impressive sales effects. Along with each of these ads BrainJuicer tested a competitor ad that ran at around the same time but that had not won or been entered for a Cassies award. As in the UK, it was emotion rather than the system two measures that singled out the award-winning ads from the benchmarks, with the non-award winners scoring best on ‘persuasion’ in most cases.

Last year the IPA published a report showing that creative advertising is highly efficient, because its emotional content gets brands talked about. Game-changing success is unlikely to be achieved by performing well on system two measures that require respondents to evaluate an ad’s persuasive effect on them. Only when we embrace emotion, by seeing how well advertising can influence system one decision-making, will we learn to endorse highly efficient and emotional advertising.

Orlando Wood is managing director of BrainJuicer Labs


13 years ago

Do you know what type of (perceived) emotion is associated with good business performance?, eg, happy, sad, etc?, or is it any (strong?) emotion? How does this help us improve the ad still further? Thanks!

Like Report

13 years ago

In a recent survey 74% of the population said that they use music to shortcut to an emotion. Using music that means something in the context in which it is being used 'works' for a brand. If it just fills up the silence it rarely connects at the level needed by an advertiser.

Like Report

13 years ago

I just can't my head round the concept of quant pretesting and emotion. If people respond to ads based on gut reaction, then lets leave it at that. Drop the quant pre test. Go with the gut.

Like Report