Time immemorial, the creative fraternity has been espousing the benefits of incorporating emotion into marketing communications. Perhaps it can be traced back to the 1960’s and the Learn, Feel, Do[i] paradigm. Back then, there was no hard scientific justification for including emotion into creative and yet, the intuition of those pioneer creatives thankfully set the profession off on broadly, the right direction.
Behavioral detonation and memory foundation
Then the discipline of neuroscience was born. The brilliant neuroscientist and prolific author, Antonio Damasio declared that based on his research, without emotion, humans could not decide.[ii] Boldly, Damasio’s absolute finding that no matter how trivial the decision, without an emotional catalyst, we cannot decide.
Complementary to Damasio’s body of work on decision making was the understanding of the role of emotional arousal on memory encoding.[iii] Perhaps this was best summarized by another absolute statement from Damasio. ‘The fidelity of the recording [of a memory] depends on how well we attend to the images in the first place which in turn depends on how much emotion and feeling were generated by their traversal in the stream of our mind.’[iv]
Every marketer, creative and brand owner should be able to recite that quote as justification as to why it is fundamental to disrupt for heightened attention and elicit an emotional response from marketing communications for the purpose of laying down a memory.
‘The fidelity of the recording depends on… how much emotion and feeling were generated by their traversal in the stream of our mind. (Damasio)’
With these advances in knowledge, we now have science-based justifications for emotion in advertising. That is, memory foundation and behavioral detonation. Now the big question – which emotion motivates the desired behavior?
The power of emotion
Over the past 12 years, Forethought has measured consumers’ desire to avoid or experience a specific discrete emotion as a motivation of behavior. We have seen marketing communications that elicited anger result in consumers switching banks, mums in the pursuit of making a smart economical decisions (pride) flock to a discount department store or in the pursuit of instilling familial love, buy one frozen meal ahead of others. The point is, it is not the presence of just any emotion that leads to a specific behavior. It is a specific, discrete emotion that is the catalyst of a particular behavior. Layered with a deep understanding of how the emotion is triggered in the consumption experience, brand communications can become a powerful catalyst for driving brand preference and purchase decision.
As an aside, I wonder if creatives have factored in the need for eliciting emotion into their performance marketing communications. It seems bottom of the funnel, direct response marketing communications is usually largely if not, entirely rational.
If we are to understand the role of emotion in consumer choice, we need to begin with a set of discrete emotions. That is, which emotions bring about the category specific behavior? The emotions Forethought measures are drawn from the work of Laros and Steenkamp[v] including surprise, pride, sadness, happiness, contentment, anxiety, love, anger, and shame. We refer to these as primary emotions. Drawing on thousands of Forethought Prophecy Feelings® studies, Exhibit One illustrates the percentage of studies where a discrete emotion is in the top 3 drivers of choice.
The bookends of emotion
Without any scientific justification, some creatives believed that if some level of emotion is good in an execution, then perhaps ads that were purely emotional are even better and proceeded to convince the client to commission “emotional anthems.” That is, ads with no rational reasons to believe such as price or product quality. Surely, wasting precious seconds on the tiresome, tangible RTBs may might steal from that moment of beautiful, pride filling, tear jerking, hilarious, anxiety inducing, loving, award-winning work. When challenged, the arbiters of the anthem often claimed their justification was not awards but rather, the all-important work of brand building in line with the (misunderstood[vi]) findings of Binet and Field[vii].
So what value does an emotional anthem deliver to the brand’s prosperity?
Table One is the outcome of a campaign where the creative agency recommended an emotional anthem for brand building (which, incidentally, won an award for its soundtrack) and a bottom of the funnel digital campaign. If you take a moment to multiply the percentages and you come up with a 7% probability that any one person saw the layering of spots at the 1) top and 2) bottom of the funnel and attributed to the correct brand. Losing 93% of the prospects in transition through the funnel seems an insurmountable objection to separating rational and emotion[viii].
Exhibit Two illustrates that decisions are a combination of an emotional catalyst and rational, reasons to believe. At the bookends are the highly rational and highly emotional category decisions. Even the most rational category (Telco-Prepaid) still requires an emotional detonator of behavior. For example, in more than ten years and thousands of studies the highest emotional category (71% emotional) has been diapers (the key emotion was love) for first time mums and most rational, top up of Telco-prepaid mobile plan (90% rational) (the main emotion was contentment). See Exhibit Three.
The situational variable
Meanwhile, when it came to buyer behavior, the role of the consumer’s rational and emotional processing changed as the buying situation changed. In some instances when cognitive processing was already engaged, emotion dominant decision making came to the fore. For example, because you were watching your weight, you might avoid the supermarket confectionary aisle however, at the checkout when you were cognitively occupied, your hand reached out to basket that happiness inducing chocolate bar (Exhibit Four).
Exhibit Four:- Situation can determine the ratio of emotion to rational motivating behavior.
Shiv et al[ix] said it best: ‘If processing resources are limited, spontaneously evoked affective reactions rather than cognitions tend to have a greater impact on choice. As a result, the consumer is more likely to choose the alternative that is superior on the affective dimension but inferior on the cognitive dimension.’
In all in all
As it turns out, the ad pioneers were right to build emotions into marketing communications. In the absence of an emotional catalyst, consumers cannot decide. Memory formation is attention dependent and on the emotional response generated by the marketing communications. If the buyer is cognitively preoccupied, then emotion can take a more important role in decision making.
[i] Russel Colley proposed the DAGMAR (Defining Advertising Goals, Measuring Results) approach in his report submitted to the Association of National Advertisers in 1961. That model which recognized the importance of cognition and emotion also became known as “Learn, Feel, Do.”
[ii] ‘Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain,’ 1995, Antonio Damasio
[iii] For example, Cahill L., Haier R. J., Fallon J., Alkire M. T., Tang C., Keator D., et al. (1996). ‘Amygdala activity at encoding correlated with long-term, free recall of emotional information’. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 93 8016–8021. 10.1073/pnas.93.15.8016
[iv] Damasio, A., ‘The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures’ Chapter nine, 2018
[v] Laros, F. J. M. and Steenkamp, J. B. E. M., “Emotions in Consumer Behaviour: A Hierarchical Approach,” Journal of Business Research, Volume 58, 2005, pages 1437 to 1445
[vi] The Folly of the ‘The Long and the Short of It’, Roberts., K. https://www.greenbook.org/mr/gain-and-retain/the-folly-of-the-the-long-and-the-short-of-it/
[vii] Les Binet, Peter Field. ‘The Long and the Short of It: Balancing Short and Long-Term Marketing Strategies,’ Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, 2013.
[viii] For a more complete discussion please see ‘The funnel alibi: Why brand building and activation should be undertaken simultaneously’ Roberts, K https://www.warc.com/content/paywall/article/bestprac/the-funnel-alibi-why-brand-building-and-activation-should-be-undertaken-simultaneously/133260
[ix] Shiv, B., & Fedorikhin, A. (1999). ‘Heart and mind in conflict: The interplay of affect and cognition in consumer decision making.’ Journal of Consumer Research, 26(3), 278–292.