Science proves it: Emotions in advertising build brands and sell products

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Brands that manage to make sense and create a clear meaning in the heads of consumers are more powerful and successful in the long term. Marketers need to move beyond the message and focus on the impression they want an ad to leave behind as a whole. This includes the creative idea, what is said in the ad, the way the story is told, and the emotional tone. It’s time to stop selling product features and start building brands. “You capture the human mind and touch our emotions by telling us gripping stories,” says Per Vesterbæk, Nordic Client Director at Kantar Millward Brown.



According to the new report Make a Lasting Impression from Kantar Millward Brown, advertising with high emotional engagement delivers significant improvements in predicted short-term share.


Per Vesterbæk, Nordic Client Director at Kantar Millward Brown, comments, “We have looked at post-campaign sales across 1,700 campaigns and the analysis shows that a strong focus on emotional relevance and creative engagement leads to increased business.”


Working your way behind the filters
Similar results have been demonstrated through facial coding. Here, Kantar Millward Brown has video recorded and coded consumers’ facial expressions while watching ads from more than 9,000 medium/large established brands.  The top ads in generating facial expressions perform much more powerfully in terms of sales uplift. Information overload makes us blasé and hard to reach but when an ad does manage to work its way behind our filters and touch our emotional register it shows in the sales curves!


Lars Richard Rasmussen, Head of Nordic Qualitative Research and anthropologist explains,  “The science behind facial coding is very strong and goes back as far as Darwin. He was one of the first to posit that some expressions are both universal and anchored in the biology that we share with our primate ancestors. The breakthrough has been the development of automated facial coding. The system automatically recognises key expressions that are interpreted as having similar meanings among all cultures such as smiles, surprise, disgust and sadness. Facial coding allows us to understand the emotional power of video ads and the power of storytelling”.


Measuring intuitive processes scientifically
Most of the time people use shortcuts or rules of thumb in decision making, rather than going to the trouble of thinking things fully through. With facial coding, Kantar Millward Brown is able to measure consumers’ intuitive processes. One of the big issues the analysis reveals is that only one in seven ads is designed to deliver a strong emotional message that consumers will quickly absorb.


Per Vesterbæk says, “Marketers would benefit from working with storytelling, form and emotional tone. It’s time to stop selling product features – it rarely works. You capture the human mind and touch our emotions by telling us gripping stories that make us let go of all our filters and play along. In other words, show; don’t tell.” At the same time, the report also explored advertising across TV, pre-roll and social media during the course of a week, which showed that just 15% of ads relied entirely on implicit messaging that people can easily absorb.


The report Make a Lasting Impression highlights key areas for developing strong creative work. One of them is that advertisers should remember to work with the brain, not against it: Ads that engage people creatively and emotionally work better than those that deliver an explicit message, which viewers tend to filter out. Working with the brain also means restricting the number of key messages delivered. Analysis of more than 1,000 ads found that where a single message is included, typically 30% will take out that key message; whereas when a campaign has three messages typically only 14% will take out the first key message.


Another key learning is that “No brand means no impression”: Even emotionally engaging ads need branding, particularly in digital where skippable formats allows you just seconds to make an impact. Kantar Millward Brown data over the last 25 years finds that ads with high branding typically deliver strong sales effects – 68% deliver a short-term sales uplift compared to those with low branding where 53% deliver a short-term sales uplift.


Examples of the “Show; don’t tell” approach are the two ads from VW, both advertising the same feature but one of them is missing out the linkage to the brand.


Turn your brand into a hero
The first Volkswagen ad was one of the most viral ads in 2016. It shows a driver backing up his car and trailer at high speed to demonstrate the trailer assist feature. In the UK, the ad is seen as very highly involving and it clearly delivers the message of reversing with ease but the focus is on the trailer not the car and because the branding is poor, the ad has limited ability to build impressions.



In the second Volkswagen ad, horses in a field laugh hysterically as a man fails to reverse park his horse trailer, but the horses are quickly silenced when another driver with trailer assist does it perfectly the first time. The ad is highly engaging and entertaining and generated the highest levels of smiles in the ads we covered in this project. Here, the “hero” of the ad is not the trailer but the VW driver. The ad is well branded and communicates the message about the ease of reversing more strongly than the previous example, making the ad far more likely to be seen as different and engaging.



Per Vesterbæk explains: ”Having your video go viral is amazing but it is crucial that people remember your brand. This means that advertisers should be very aware that the brand is well integrated in the story of the video and ideally from the very start. The digital videos that perform the best are 8 times more effective at creating awareness on the brand compared to the weakest ads.”


Great demand for test of digital work

“We have only just announced the winners of our Nordic Digital Video Advertising Award 2017 and we see that branding becomes even more important now because consumers are more impatient and restless than ever before. Advertisers are becoming increasingly aware of this. It is a clear tendency in the work we do for our clients. Here we experience an increased focus on the digital campaigns and their ability to deliver to these changed conditions.”


For further information, please contact:

Per Vesterbæk or Lars Richard Rasmussen


Download the Make a Lasting Impression report.



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