Why Brands Use Emotional Advertising & How to Effectively Measure Emotions

Neurons HQ

July 13, 2023

Ever found yourself reaching for that chocolate bar when you're feeling blue? Or perhaps booked that vacation you've been dreaming of after a promotion?

Emotions play a key role in how we make decisions.

They act as powerful motivators, influencing our choices and behavior - and they are working on a subconscious level.

When done right, emotional advertising triggers irresistible actions that transcend rational thought, turning customers into advocates without the hard sell.

Let’s dive deeper into how emotions work, their key role in brand choice, and ways to measure them for more effective communication.

The Role of Emotions in Advertising and Decision Making

Our brain is continuously processing signals and is constantly making decisions - about what to pay attention to, and what to ignore; or whether something matches what we are looking for or if it’s not relevant at all.

These instant decisions are called microdecisions.

At the heart of each microdecision, four powers come into play to shape our perceptions:

  1. attention,
  2. emotions,
  3. cognition, and
  4. memory.

The Four Powers of Effective Advertising

Emotions rise faster and are more persuasive than rational thinking. It takes a fraction of a second, only 300 milliseconds, for people to see and react emotionally to an advertisement.

Emotions impact how we make choices, including what we buy. As pointed out by Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, we make over 90% of our buying decisions subconsciously. This suggests that we may not be as aware of our buying decisions as we think we are.

Why Emotional Advertising Works

Emotional advertising helps brands stay top-of-mind in buying situations. Whether it's a creative ad, an aesthetically designed package, or a distinctive brand logo, these elements have a unique way of invoking emotions in us, shaping our attitudes and behaviors toward the product or service.

Emotional advertising works because emotions are immediate, often subconscious responses that bring about instant changes in our body, behavior, and mind.

It's only after we've responded and behaved that we become fully conscious of these emotions. Indeed, we can formulate conscious strategies to prevent acting on impulse, although adhering to them can be challenging. After all, our ancestors survived in the face of danger by relying on their instinctive emotional responses rather than introspecting their conscious thoughts.

Here are the 4 key subconscious traits that continue to manifest in our modern-day consumer behavior:

  1. First impressions evoke deep associations
  2. Emotions motivate action
  3. Emotions create long-term memories
  4. Emotions dictate consumer behavior

#1 First Impressions Evoke Deep Emotional Associations

Positive first impressions establish an emotional connection with the brand that extends beyond the transactional nature of the product or service.

When we encounter a brand for the first time, our brain instantly begins processing the available information:

  • What does the logo look like?
  • What's the color scheme?
  • Is the tagline catchy?

All of these factors contribute to our initial judgment of the brand, an impression formed in mere seconds. But what's more interesting is how these early perceptions can spark emotional associations.

For instance, a well-designed logo or a creative tagline can evoke feelings of admiration, curiosity, or joy, which then establish a positive emotional context for the brand.

First impressions with a brand influence our conscious and subconscious expectations of a product. An activation of stored memories and associations, which contributes to an increase in experience and evaluation of the product.

#2 Emotions Motivate Action & Affect Decisions

Emotions act as a powerful catalyst for action. They affect our decision-making process, often overriding logical considerations in favor of emotional impulses.

Let's take Black Friday sales as an example. When we see discounts and limited-time offers, it triggers an emotional response, typically excitement or fear (fear of missing out).

Even if logic dictates that we might not need the product or that the discount isn't as big as it appears, the emotional response propels us to make impulsive buying decisions.

The amygdala, the brain's emotional processing center, plays a significant role in this. It assesses the emotional value of stimuli and motivates us to act accordingly.

Essentially, spontaneous purchases are less of a mental drain than deliberate ones, which is a primary driver of impulse shopping.

#3 Emotions Create Long-Lasting Connections

Emotional experiences can forge lasting connections. When an advertisement or brand experience triggers strong emotions, it forms a powerful memory that stays in the consumer's mind.

These emotional memories then influence the consumer's future interactions with the brand, often triggering a feeling of familiarity or personal connection.

Ads that appeal to our feelings tend to be more memorable and effective. They evoke responses that make us relate to the product, brand, or cause on a personal level, stimulating emotional engagement and fostering loyalty.

#4 Emotions Dictate Purchase and Pricing

In a recent study, we used EEG to measure subjects’ brain activity while they viewed different products. What we found was remarkable

The emotional response triggered by a product is a better predictor of purchasing behavior than any other factor.

But it wasn’t just that emotional response predicted whether people would buy a product. It also predicted how much they were willing to pay.

When subjects experienced a positive emotional response to a product, they were willing to pay significantly more for it than if they had experienced a negative emotional response.

How to Measure Emotions in Advertising

When you hear the word "Coca-Cola," you probably think of specific things like the bottle, the drink, the color black, the logo, Santa Claus, the sound of a can being opened, and so on. These are explicit associations that you can recall consciously.

However, subconscious emotional reactions and biases also influence human choice, and traditional research forms such as surveys, focus groups, or interviews do not account for these elements. Tools like Explore are specifically designed to bridge this gap.

Explore dives into both stated and subconscious responses of the audience & measures key performance indicators like attention, liking, willingness to buy, and also brand memory. In essence, gives unique insights into the emotional impact of an ad campaign before it goes live, something traditional methods can't offer.

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Here are three tools to measure emotions in advertising with varying levels of precision:

  1. Explore: On top of emotions, it measures attention, liking, willingness to buy, brand memory, and more. Explore gathers insights based on implicit tests and AI predictions.
  2. EEG & eye-tracking: These tools can measure complex processes such as attention, cognitive load, emotions, and memory.
  3. Explicit surveys: While not as precise as other tools, surveys can still capture some emotional responses.

The Impact Of Emotions: The Branding Value of Typography 

Subtle visual cues can evoke strong emotional reactions that ultimately shape brand perceptions. Believe it or not, even the careful selection of fonts can amplify positivity toward your brand.

The world’s largest type foundry, Monotype, tapped into the capabilities of Explore to measure the emotional impact of typefaces, proving typography's often overlooked branding value.

The results showed that people foster strong emotional relationships with type, and our brains have a significant response to typefaces. The partnership revealed that type choice can enhance a word's relevance by up to 13%, boost its memorability by 10%, and amplify its trustworthiness by a notable 9%.

Monotype also ran a brand campaign that leveraged the findings to spark an industry-wide dialog, making it the brand's top-performing activation campaign.

Key Takeaways

Emotions are important success factors in advertising and decision-making for 3 reasons:

1. They shape our perception: Emotions, along with attention, cognition, and memory, determine how we perceive stimuli and make microdecisions.

2. They motivate us to act: Our emotional reactions are faster and more persuasive than rational thinking, often compelling us to act in certain ways.

3. They are mainly subconscious: Emotions are difficult to measure but tools like Explore and EEG & eye-tracking provide the depth and clarity that traditional methods cannot.

Why Brands Use Emotional Advertising & How to Effectively Measure Emotions

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