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Ad appeal, add emotional impact – ditch the message

By / / In Insight /
Are your ads having a more emotional impact than a large spider? Sadly not: consumer neuroscience shows that nearly two-thirds of today’s ads would be out-performed by an arachnid. Marketers may be failing with their campaigns because they are simply relying on their product messages, rather than leveraging emotional impact to better engage consumers.
emotional impact

Not many brands use spiders as spokespeople, but perhaps they should. Because neuroscience shows that a picture of one of our eight-legged friends will generate emotional impact and a greater emotional response than many of today’s ads.

emotional impact

Good storytelling leaves an impression, the study found – such as the annual John Lewis ad.

The opportunity that’s being missed is the chance to make us feel something, anything, even our instinctive fear of large spiders. Ads should try to make us laugh or cry because emotion, not detail, is what makes consumers love great ads.

Great ads work with our brains – they tap into bits of the brain that are most likely to absorb information. People respond to implicit messages – brand benefits woven into compelling stories that are human while also being relevant.

The functional product message beloved by marketers is simply too much hard work to remember. Watching an ad break can feel like being pummelled with information about ‘wonderful’ products and services, none of which we remember.

Being emotional can give brands a huge competitive advantage.

Our studies have found that just 15% of ads deliver a totally implicit message. We recently conducted research to explore a typical week’s advertising from around the world across TV, pre- roll and social media. Almost two-thirds of the ads reviewed delivered an explicit product message, the type of message that’s most likely to be filtered out.

This approach is also at odds with the growing evidence from cognitive science that people rarely think through decisions. Snap judgements and instinctive reactions on the basis of existing brand associations are a key part of the brand decision-making process, particularly in sectors such as consumer packaged goods (CPGs).

Making a lasting impression isn’t easy, it requires emotional relevance and creative engagement. Kantar Millward Brown’s database shows that ads with creative impact, driven by branded, emotional engagement, have a much clearer relationship with in-market sales success.

It’s true that failing to get the key message across in ads is also associated with a lower likelihood of a sales response – but ads that consumers engage with perform much better; broadly, ads that fail to engage have a one-in-three chance of driving a sale, those that consumers do engage with deliver a 75% chance of creating a sale.

The need to create implicit messages is even more vital in digital, where brands have to overcome the viewer’s intended goal and get them to view the video, particularly for skippable formats.

While we do see greater use of implicit delivery in digital ads than in TV, the majority of brand content – 60% in the case of pre-roll advertising – still focuses on the hard-to-remember product message.

We recently analysed facial coding data covering ads from more than 9,000 medium/large established brands to get an implicit measure of emotional response.

The top ads in generating facial expressions performed much more powerfully in terms of sales uplift, in fact there was an 11-fold difference in volume share sales shifts. Many of the ads tested generated less emotional response than a picture of a large spider.

Emotional impact – making an impression

So, rather than trying to get us to remember how many USB ports a laptop has or the number of megapixels of a camera, ads should be all about making an impression rather than a product pitch.

People feel first and think second. Ads that take an emotional route have a better chance of breaking through and can make a powerful contribution to the business even if people are only engaged superficially.

Such emotional responses send a signal to the brain telling us to pay attention. This is why ads such as Always ‘#likeagirl’ (see video below), Amazon’s ‘Priest and Iman’ and Skittles ‘Portrait’ generate emotional responses (as measured by people’s facial expressions) and are more likely to generate sales effects.


Ads don’t have to be entirely positive, but the brand should play a positive emotional role in the narrative because this will pair the brand with positive feelings and act as a cue for later purchase, when people are shopping on autopilot.

So, if your ad doesn’t make people laugh or cry, then you might be better off sticking your logo on a picture of a large arachnid.

Have an opinion on this article? Please join in the discussion: the GMA is a community of data driven marketers and YOUR opinion counts.

Read also:

Triggering customer emotions: why a people-first approach will save your brand (infographic)

Think positive! Customer experience negativity is a myth

Author: Daren Poole
Global Brand director, Creative Development at Kantar Millward Brown |

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