Walking a Fine Line in Evoking Emotion in Ads

By Sentient Decision Science, Inc.
November 30, 2016
As a market research firm well-versed in quantifying emotion, we know the direct link between emotion and advertising effectiveness. The functions of emotion in ads can take viewers on a sequential journey, through processes of attention, affect, memory, and—if successful—desirability.
“If” is the operative word. Evoking emotion does not guarantee ad success because brands must evoke the right emotions.

The Emotional Taxonomy of Consumer Choice

Sentient has identified 26 motivational emotions directly tied to consumer behavior. This emotional taxonomy is grounded in a fundamental human motivational framework that specifies traits that motivate people to approach or avoid certain life outcomes.
But a proper balance must be struck; it’s entirely possible to push viewers too far. Nationwide® found out the hard way.

Nationwide’s Agonizing Super Bowl Loss

During the 2015 Super Bowl, the insurance company aired a commercial about childhood accidents. The spot featured a young boy who voiced increasingly morbid and depressing statements: “I’ll never learn to ride a bike. Or get cooties. And I won’t ever get married.” Why? He was dead.
The ad earned instant criticism. According to social media sentiment tracked by Ispot.tv.com, only 33% of viewers liked it. And the Super Bowl crowd wasn’t a tough one; 85% of viewers reported enjoying the commercials aired during 2015’s big game.
So Nationwide, which aims to offer financial security, missed a golden opportunity with a huge audience. Consumers are motivated to alleviate their security concerns by specific emotions. But the advertisement didn’t inspire relief of fear or guilt to drive brand choice. Despite its insistence that, “We believe in protecting what matters most: your kids,” viewers were overwhelmed by agony.

Johnnie Walks the Right Line

Contrast this effort with a recent Johnnie Walker spot.
The ad is being hailed as one of the brand’s best. Interestingly, it wasn’t produced by Johnnie Walker but by a pair of German students, Dorian Lebherz and Daniel Titz. Their goal was to tell a cinematic story that inspired those oh-so-important discrete emotions. And that’s exactly what they did.
When viewers realize the main character is actually alone on the journey and he’s saying goodbye to his brother, we feel a profound sense of loss. But the narrator tugs at our heart strings when he says, “And if your heart’s full of sorrow, keep walking; don’t rest. And promise me from heart to chest you’ll never let your memories die. I will always be alive and by your side.”
Keep walking: the brand’s tagline is inserted at the height of emotion to become a beautiful sentiment. The brother smiles. We’re engulfed by sympathy, even admiration, of courage needed to smile through grief.
Mission accomplished, says Lebherz.

“Nearly everybody has been to the point that you’ve lost someone, so everyone can empathize with the feeling of our protagonist,” he explained to AdFreak. “It’s the memories that keep those persons alive.”

The Impact of Evoking Emotion

Unlike the Nationwide commercial, which went viral based on feelings of disgust, the Johnnie Walker spot evokes feelings of sadness that give way to elevation. Viewers experience sadness and not agony because the act of saying goodbye, of seeking closure, is honorable and no part of them protests that aspect of loss. The image of the soaring gull, the brother’s smile, and the uplifting words inspire the elevation.
The ad has received extensive praise as well as 3,602,639 YouTube views in one month. Hopefully, the people at Nationwide are among the number.

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