An emotional year in adland

One of the long-term structural changes in economics, communications, psychology and research has been an increased understanding of the importance of ‘emotion’ and instinctive unconscious decision-making.

In advertising it is all-conquering. It also has multiple meanings and definitions. Do we mean System 1 or System 2, engagement, salience, resonance, physiological reactions, emotional priming or emotional brand building, or all of the above?

We think you need to consider all of these concepts when evaluating a campaign, communication or advert. But we should remember that, ultimately, an emotional ad isn’t one we classify, it is one people have a response to. That should be the final arbiter of success or failure when judging creative work’s ability to deliver those elusive and much sought-after emotional reactions.

So how did the debate play out this year? As this is adland we have license to use exaggeration and simplification to emphasise a point. There is a fundamental disagreement between two warring camps – those whose jobs and reputations rely on ads being creative, popular and well received; and those whose jobs and reputations rely on selling their product. The first group believe it is simply a case of ‘be emotional and the ROI will follow’. The second group are more ‘rational’ in their approach – they want to show how their product works and why it would be useful to their target audience.

Are these seemingly diametrically opposed factions reconcilable? Les Binet and Peter Field’s comprehensive interrogation, ‘The Long and the Short of it’, provides an answer. Through meta-analysis of the short and long-term effects of hundreds of campaigns, Binet and Field showed that rational messaging is great at delivering short-term effects. However, they are less successful in delivering more sustained effects that benefit brands in the longer term.

Conversely, emotional campaigns often take a while to have as big an impact, but work in the long run via ‘emotional priming’. Binet and Field also suggest that whilst most campaigns use both rational and emotional approaches, those campaigns whose primary focus was emotional were more effective across all metrics.

So emotional appeal wins and is essential? Not quite. There is an important caveat. If you are going to go with an emotional priming campaign, you have to have a good activation strategy running alongside. This gets immediate impact until the long term emotional effect comes through (and keeps the ‘rational’ team happy).

Some emotional winners of 2014

Throughout the year we have been evaluating campaigns to see which ads truly hit the emotional high spots. By using neuroscience techniques, such as facial coding, implicit reaction and biometrics, we can evaluate the emotional aspect more sensitively than traditional measures of recall and persuasion.

Apple – emotional involvement 

This year’s iPhone 5s campaign is a great example of ‘emotional involvement’. This genre of advertising works by stirring emotions in people and/or by being well liked.  It is looking to generate emotional engagement with the campaign so that positive image and associations are transferred across to the brand. Of course, there is a long purchase cycle on phones, so the primary role for this ad is to warm people up to Apple and the iPhone.

Apple - iPhone 5s - TV Ad - Parenthood.

Apple – iPhone 5s – TV Ad – Parenthood.

In our testing, the people for whom this story is most personally relevant, parents, experience a much bigger spike of engagement at the beginning, which then develops throughout. It is vital that the brand is connected to the things the target audience really care about. Given this sustained emotional engagement journey, it is no surprise that the campaign achieved 16% uplift in consideration for the brand among parents, compared to those not exposed to the advertising.

Emotional fame – a formula for success?

We have also identified three great examples of ‘emotional fame’ campaigns. They work by getting the brand talked about as people are inspired to share both the ad and their enthusiasm for it.

three - #SingItKitty - cat advert.

three – #SingItKitty – cat advert.

This particular sub-set of emotional advertising is most likely to deliver very large business effects. The campaigns by McVitie’s, 3 and Always stand out in this category.

The combination of cute cats and the pleasure of chocolate biscuits (McVitie’s), silly, senseless, unfettered emotional joy and 80s feel good rock (3), or a thought-provoking look at society’s attitude to women (Always), all gave these campaigns huge re-transmission potential, in addition to the ‘paid for’ slots in traditional media.

McVitie’s Kitten TV Advert - Chocolate Digestives.

McVitie’s Kitten TV Advert – Chocolate Digestives.

Always #LikeAGirl.

Always #LikeAGirl.

This is of little value, however, if the work is not delivering the desired response for the brand. All the campaigns achieved this in their own way – with uplifts in brand saliency and purchase interest for McVitie’s (emotional ads can do short term effects too!), brand consideration for 3 and, in the case of the Always social content, brand closeness among women and men.

John Lewis ends the year with an emotional high

As the year came to a conclusion, the much anticipated John Lewis seasonal effort was ‘seeded’ online to great effect before hitting TV screens. Our research showed they struck gold, gleaning an emotional response that comfortably out-performed last year’s effort.

John Lewis – Monty the Penguin TV advert.

John Lewis – Monty the Penguin TV advert.

It intrigues from the first second, and takes the viewer on an emotional journey full of happiness and smiles, tinged with sadness and concern, before rising to a crescendo of feel-good emotions. Monty the Penguin’s search for ‘real love’ allows a child’s imagination to run free with great effect – ultimately connecting to many of the things people really care about at Christmas.

People don’t care that much about brands. But powerful, high quality creative material that elicits a genuine emotional response, can help overcome that indifference and deliver impressive outcomes. It means the work is more likely to be noticed, engaged with, shared and discussed. Beyond that, it will help to emotionally prime people’s relationship with the brand.

Too many of us in adland are hung up with short-term pressures: brands and campaigns win when they think long-term.