First, a quick recap of Part One and Two. In Part One we were reminded that humans require an emotional detonator to decide (anything) and that laying down a memory is aided by disruption whilst simultaneously eliciting the target discrete emotion. In Part Two we learnt that the only valid means for measuring the hierarchy of emotions that detonates consumption behavior is via an implicit scale. Not at this time, nor is it likely in the foreseeable future, do physiological or biometric methods capture the range of discrete emotions associated with buyer behavior.
Now, on to Part Three and the examination of emotion in advertising. In this part, we focus on two practical considerations for marketing communications. These are:
- Brands that embody the consumers’ end emotional motivation
- The application of a negative emotion to drive behavior
At the conclusion of this article, some generalizable rules with respect to the measurement and application of emotions are provided.
Brands that embody the consumers’ end emotional motivation
In the Forethought practice, brand owners seeking to align their brand with consumers’ end emotional goal, is by far the most common emotion-related strategy. Take the example of the Nestlé leading North American frozen food brand, Stouffer's. Nestlé was not satisfied with merely leading the crowded category on traditional brand metrics and so, sought to understand where its multi-serve range emotionally fitted into the family dining occasion.
Three 15 second vignettes were prepared (Exhibit One). Each video depicted a different preparation of the family meal. One depicted a lasagna made from scratch, another taken from the freezer and the third delivered via takeout. All three vignettes ended with the same scene of a family dining scene.
Exhibit One: 15 second vignettes of meal preparation
Respondents were exposed to just one of the 15 second vignettes and then using the implicit Prophecy Feelings® scale, provided the following results (Exhibit Two). Bayesian analysis revealed the relative importance of the discrete emotions elicited by the stimulus. The most important discrete emotion was love at 26% of variance explained. The stark difference between the emotion elicited by a meal made from scratch compared to the meal with a frozen or takeout origin provided Nestlé with the impetus to explore a “real meal” and the emotional territory surrounding love.
Exhibit Two: Implicit measurement of different meal preparations
Incidentally, the faint red line in Exhibit Two at zero is the standardized calibration. Before respondents are shown any stimulus, they run through the metaphor based, animated scale to establish how they are feeling.
In the qualitative contextualization, it was found that the love territory was in essence about centering the family around mealtimes and the performance of a meal made from scratch became the new benchmark for the Stouffer’s brand. Kelly Malley of Nestlé briefed Wunderman Thompson NY resulting in the production of three animatics. The results of the animatic emotional elicitation can be seen on the left-hand side of Exhibit Three. Nestlé decided to proceed with the “Cellphone” animatic into production and pretesting. The pre-test performance of the completed spot against the baseline brand measurement can be seen on the right-hand side of Exhibit Three – with a clear lift in eliciting the target emotion, love.
Exhibit Three: Animatic and final spot elicitation of emotion
It should be noted that animatics do not always as faithfully replicate the performance of the finally produced spot. In Exhibit Four a handful of stills have been captured to illustrate how closely the final spot replicated the high quality Wunderman Thompson animatic. Most importantly, the performance of the new campaign resulted in high single digit growth.(1)
One element of this campaign that was not textbook was the tag line, “Made for you to love.” Love was the target emotion however, an emotion should be implicitly elicited. “I’m Loving it” plus the earworm five notes, “ba-da-ba-ba-baaa” is a hardworking distinctive asset of McDonald’s however, you cannot elicit an emotion by explicitly instructing someone to be emotional. Telling you that I am funny does not make you laugh.
Exhibit Four: “Cellphone” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCKUVansSGQ
The application of a negative emotion to drive behavior
The assumption that positive valence is good in advertising and negative valence is bad is plainly incorrect. For more than a decade, US insurance company Allstate has run a campaign (Mayhem) that intentionally elicits negative valence(2). Whilst the campaign brings humor to the situation, the residual emotion from the spots is negative.
During the pandemic, governments around the world intentionally elicited negative emotions to motivate citizens to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Attitudinally, spots that elicited strong negative valence were far more powerful at driving intention to be vaccinated than purely informational spots. Below are two spots to consider. Exhibit Five, Arm Yourself was designed as a more informational spot. Exhibit Six, ICU was specifically designed to elicit anxiety. Both spots were intended to increase the likelihood of being vaccinated.
Exhibit Five – “Arm Yourself” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cD32D4nDNcs
Exhibit Six – “ICU” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZxrx9xStdY
Applying the implicit Prophecy Feelings scale revealed that ICU triggered a strong negative response, a primal dread that would catalyse action. It also markedly turned down the primary positive emotions in Australians. Arm Yourself did not emotionally move Australians and thus lacked the behavioral change detonation.
Exhibit Seven shows the contrasting emotional performance of the two spots. Note the strong
negative emotional elicitation of the ICU spot.
Exhibit Seven – Emotional elicitation of alternative COVID-19 spots
Applying a zero to 10 likelihood scale, Exhibit Eight reveals the behavioral intention. This can be read as approximating a probability scale(3). Therefore, post seeing the ICU spot there was a 57.5% probability of making an appointment to receive a vaccine. This was a 24% lift in the probability from the benchmark response to the likelihood question. The point is, behavior requires an emotional detonator and that emanates from both negative and positive emotions. Moreover, eliciting negative emotions in marketing communications is an entirely legitimate approach to driving behavioral change.
Exhibit Eight – How likely are you to book a vaccine appointment?
Not just any emotion
The highly skilled creative agencies are those that have mastered the art of eliciting the target emotion whilst integrating the rational reasons-to-believe into a single communication. There are two precursors to eliciting the optimum discrete emotion. First, identifying the discrete target emotion. This is achieved by undertaking Bayesian modelling of implicitly measured choice drivers to establish the relative hierarchy of importance of the specific emotions associated with the purchase. For example, a mortgage might be love, a new car – pride, chocolate – happiness, insurance – anxiety. Depending on the product or service, it is the emotion associated with procuring/owning/using or consuming the product or service that should be identified. For the purpose of the creative brief, qualitative research is used to contextualize the emotion.
Second, now with the benefit of the analysis, the brand owner chooses the single emotion that they wish to elicit in the marketing communications. While reasons-to-believe change with campaigns, the chosen emotion remains the target emotion in perpetuity. The reason for this is the time it takes to build a neural association between the occasion related emotion and the brand. In extraordinary cases, a single campaign can significantly raise the emotion associated with the brand however, it is more common to see a steady build that can take a sustained period to achieve the desired level. Incidentally, changing creative agencies can provide either a boost or a hindrance to that endeavor.
Building neural pathways between brand and choice and the associated marketing communications investment falls squarely into the category of brand building. When it comes to buyer choice, eliciting an emotion in the marketing communications facilitates the neural pathway between what emotional benefit the category facilitates and the brand.
Finally, Guidelines For Integrating Emotions (4)
At Forethought we delineate between learnings that are “written in pencil” and “written in ink.” The learnings that are written in ink are those that we have seen replicated in market multiple times. The following are our guidelines for integrating emotions into marketing communications. These guidelines are written in ink.
- Whilst some behavior is based on an emotional reflex, consumer behavior is a product of an emotional detonator plus buyers’ rational appraisal.
- It is incorrect to suggest that in response to marketing stimulus, we experience a single emotion and yet, from the range of emotions experienced, there is a hierarchy of emotions and amongst these, a dominant, primary emotion that leads to the detonation of behavior.
- Fundamental to deciding on which emotion to elicit in your marketing communications, is to first quantify the hierarchy of emotions that underpin the consumers’ motivation. From that hierarchy, distil your focus to just one emotion. The best brands have created a well-worn neural pathway between their brand and what motivates the buying decision.
- In a buying decision, the ratio of emotion to rational motivation is dependent on the category and buyer characteristics. The range we have observed is from 75% emotional all the way through to 95% rational.
- For marketing communications, it is a misstep to explicitly communicate how someone should feel and expect to have elicited that emotion. Emotion is elicited through implicit cues. This is a major element of creativity. The ability in marketing communications to elicit a discrete emotion and to neurologically attach that discrete emotion to the brand is the single most important element that distinguishes capable creative agencies.
- The medium moderates emotional receptivity. For example, cinema markedly amplifies emotional elicitation.
- A brand can be leading the market on emotion elicitation but lagging on buyers’ rational appraisal and so failing to gain share. The opposite is also true and indeed, far more common.
- Brands evoke buyers’ emotion but, far more importantly, brands fulfil the buyers’ rational and emotional motivational needs. I don’t love my bank, but I love my family and taking out a mortgage is an expression of my love for them and a source of pride for me.
All in all
Before we finish, we need to face-up to our collective ignorance. Fact is, that neuroscientists tell us that we know very little about the non conscious and how it shapes human behavior. Even our understanding of the link between emotions and feelings remains in its formative stage. So, when someone (including me) tells you they understand how emotion works in advertising to drive human behavior, your response should be guarded cynicism.
Where advertising investment can and often does go horribly wrong is when emotion is created for emotion’s sake. Conspicuous emotional elicitation plays particularly well with subjective based, advertising awards jurors (please see ‘Emotion – Not a Matter For Expert Judgement’). Indeed, eliciting a conspicuous emotion appears to be a precursor for winning many advertising awards. But the hard facts are that the road to advertising misery is paved by big ideas embedded in emotional anthems which achieved no appreciable change in any business outcome – in either the near or long term (please see ‘The Folly of the Long and the Short of It’ ).
Given that emotions are experienced subconsciously and for just a fraction of a second, we cannot simply ask someone to tell us how they feel; implicit measurement is necessary to cut through cognitive interference. (5)
Now for a final word on emotions, a discrete emotion can be felt in a number of ways and evoked by a range of cues. The interpretation of the emotion and the most effective ways to elicit that emotion are nuanced from category to category and brand to brand. A detailed understanding of the “territories” of an emotion, uncovered through qualitative contextualization, is therefore essential to the effective application of emotion in advertising.
2 For example, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2vzNgEzrH8
4 These guidelines have benefited from the insight of Forethought colleague, Rachel Edwardes.
5 Thank you Forethought colleagues, Matthew Barton and Sacha Cody PhD for the final word on emotions in