The Benchmark Series: Emotions and Advertising

 Does Emotional Advertising
Boost Advertising Effectiveness?

There are certain times of the year when big emotional ads tend to come to market: and in Australia the run up to Christmas is prime time.

We’re talking about those rich, narrative, evocative ads which tell stories that tug at our heartstrings, stir us to tears, or make us smile, like this great piece from David Jones:

We already know that gut-feel and emotion seem to trump rationality in much of consumer activity: studies have found for instance that 90% of human decision making is dictated by emotion and 85% of consumer purchases are driven by emotional attachment* – and that 95% of our purchase decisions take place sub-consciously**.

But what of advertising itself… Can an emotionally evocative ad do more for a brand than a non-evocative one?

We found the answer nestled among the wealth of data collected in the Benchmark Series, a groundbreaking-independent large scale, in-home study into how Australians really engage with video advertising across different platforms and devices.

How we got the answer…

ThinkTV commissioned globally-renowned marketing science academic Professor Karen Nelson-Field from the University of Adelaide to undertake the Benchmark Series in 2016.

The Professor’s major findings in September 2017 were that ads on TV generate more attention, and therefore a greater sales impact, than ads on Facebook or YouTube, and that the difference is predominantly explained by the higher visibility of ads on TV (where the ad is shown on 100pc of the screen 100pc of the time).

As part of her survey of more than 2,600 Australians, Karen also asked 140 consumers to view 15 TV advertisements and classify their feelings upon viewing. And it’s those findings, coupled with some clever academic work, which answered our question.

First, Karen asked viewers to classify the intensity of their reactions and whether their emotional responses were positive or negative using the “arousal valence grid” below – they were asked to circle one word after each ad they were shown.








The Professor and her team then rated each ad’s sales impact using the following two metrics:

  1. Attention – how much their eyes were on the screen, as measured using state-of-the-art eye-tracking software.
  2. Short-term advertising strength or STAS*** (measured by how often brands were picked out by viewers in an online supermarket after they had watched a series of ads).

The attention and STAS scores for each ad were then matched against the types and levels of emotions each ad elicited – btw, here’s a short video explaining the Benchmark Series’ broader methodology in case it helps.

So, to the results:

Ads which generated a strong reaction – irrespective of whether or not the reaction was positive or negative – garnered 16% more attention than ads which elicited weak reactions.

Her second key finding on emotion demonstrated the link between strong reactions to advertising and resulting sales impact, the bit that really counts for advertisers:

Ads which generated a high emotional response had a 30% greater sales impact than ads which elicited a low response.

The Professor readily admits that she did not use the world’s biggest survey sample for this part of the series but is quick to stress that the findings match the findings from similar work she published in 2013. That gave her and her team complete confidence that the results stand up to scrutiny and would carry in a larger sample.

These findings also tallied closely with work done by Peter Field and Les Binet. The globally-renowned academics showed in an in-depth 2013 UK study, The Long and the Short of it, that very large profit effects from advertising are almost twice as likely to result from emotional advertisements than rational ones.

Binet and Field’s follow-up study in 2016, Media in Focus, went so far as to recommend a ratio of 60:40 between emotional and rational elements of advertising to get the best business results for brands. One of their essential messages is that if advertisers spend too little time on brand-building, it limits brand equity growth.

Now, if all this sounds easy peasy, it isn’t, and we’d be silly to pretend that it is. Making great, emotionally powerful ads is really, really hard and there’s no magic formula.

But we can say with confidence that TV is the platform that provides the opportunity to create ads that elicit strong emotional responses. We know this because Australian consumers told us so in the AdNation study that Professor Nelson-Field helped ThinkTV with earlier this year.

The results of this large survey found that TV is far and away the platform upon which people say they are most likely to find advertising that will make them feel emotional, make them laugh, that they like, that they trust, that will be memorable and that will draw attention to a brand or product they have never heard of.

We think that is because TV is an experience: it has premium quality content, which provides high levels of viewer engagement and attention as well as level of receptivity and viewing time to allow for engaging, compelling storytelling. It affords brands the time and space to create a beginning, middle and end, build tension and resolution, triumph or loss in their advertising across all types of screens and devices.

Emotional storytelling and brand-building is certainly do-able on other platforms but only TV guarantees a 100% visibility experience needed to nurture it.

This is the key conclusion from Professor Nelson-Field’s Benchmark Series in 2017: that getting your ad seen is the most important thing of all.

A low emotion ad will still gain more attention when distributed on a more visible platform than a highly emotional ad that can barely be seen.

So above all else, make sure your ad gets seen.

Does Emotional Advertising Aid Advertising Effectiveness?


* VAB, Be Still My Beating Heart, 2017
** Professor Gerald Zaltman, Harvard Business School
*** How is STAS measured?
STAS is the acronym for Short-Term Advertising Strength. STAS is calculated by determining the proportion of category buyers who bought a specific brand having not been exposed to that brand’s advertising, and comparing this to the proportion of category buyers who were exposed to advertising and went on to buy the brand. A STAS score of 100 indicates no advertising impact in that those who were exposed to the advertising were just as likely to purchase as those who were not. A score above 100 indicates that the advertising had an impact on sales.

Need to speak to ThinkTV directly? Reach us here.