Film critic Roger Ebert once said, “Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.”
In market research and advertising, the same holds true. If you can understand a person’s true emotional response to a video, product, website, or other piece of content, you can more accurately predict how those emotions may translate into action.
What makes emotions so special? Well, many studies support that emotions play a vital role in our ability to store and recall memories. Emotions have served as an evolutionary survival mechanism: experiencing fear protects us from dangerous situations while positive emotions promote risk-averse behaviors beneficial to survival (Öhman and Mineka, 2001). Research has also shown that humans are inherently more drawn to emotive events or visuals vs. neutral events or visuals (Schupp et al, 2007).
“Brands eliciting strong emotional responses are easier for viewers to recall.”
With this information, it’s no surprise that there’s been a trend in marketing and advertising to try and create emotionally stimulating content. Whether it’s the meme inspiring the Sarah McLachlan SPCA commercial that famously brings its viewers to tears, or the hysterical Super Bowl commercials that have in many ways become their own event, brands eliciting strong emotional responses are easier for viewers to recall—and down the line, act on.
But how can we prove this? And how can content be quickly measured for its emotional impact?
To figure that out we used our own tool, Sticky by Tobii Pro. It allows teams to actually see what their users are seeing—and understand what they’re feeling.
We found a correlation between brand recall and the peak emotional response experienced by viewers. The objective of the study was to determine how emotions and the presence of a celebrity in back-to-school commercials impact brand recall for 5 major brands: Target, Walmart, GAP, Old Navy (featuring Amy Schumer), Old Navy (no celebrity), and Staples.
The methodology was as follows:
- We targeted 461 participants between the age of 25-60 who were parents and the primary shoppers in their household. They were sent the study online and took the study remotely.
- They were asked to watch one of 6 randomized, 30-second, back-to-school commercials with comparable amounts of brand exposure throughout the videos (logos, dialogue)
- Participants opted in to have our platform access their webcams to track their eye movements and facial expressions throughout the study
- Participants were asked 3 follow-up survey questions after watching the videos (What brand was the video for? How likely are you to purchase a back to school product for your child from this brand? How much did you like this commercial?)
The results demonstrated the following trends:
- There’s a correlation between the emotional peak and participants’ ability to recall the brand in the commercial
- Videos with the same emotional peak resulted in comparable brand recall percentages (Walmart and Target)
- Incorporating a well-known celebrity gave a “bump” to brand recall (Old Navy featuring Amy Schumer vs. Staples)
- [invTWeet]Content does not have to elicit positive feelings to have an impact on brand recall[/invTweet] (the GAP commercial elicited “disgust” as the peak emotion)
Laughter makes an impression
Below is a GIF of the Staples back-to-school commercial featuring the famous Christmas song “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The commercial shows a father happily dancing down the store aisles with his children shuffling behind, clearly disappointed and unenthusiastic. It’s unsurprising that parents responded positively to this video, juxtaposing the excitement a parent may have to see their children return to school with their children’s disappointment.
The emotional impact happens early in the commercial, with the peak of 9% happening 8 seconds in. This play on the viewers’ emotions led to 91% of participants being able to successfully recall the brand.
Above, check out the moving SEEN map and emotional response during the Staples commercial.
The celebrity effect
Below is a GIF of the Old Navy commercial featuring Amy Schumer. Not only did the commercial use comedy to reach the viewer, but Amy was seen by 89% of viewers throughout the video. This occurred frequently when she was in frame, underlining how her celebrity status was a major draw of visual attention. This aligns with expectations—featuring a well-known celebrity brings credibility and familiarity to a brand, increasing the potential for brand recall and purchase intent.
While the Staples commercial achieved a higher emotional peak, Amy Schumer’s presence gave the Old Navy commercial a brand recall “bump” that was observable in the results (96% vs. 91%).
“Want your brand to be memorable? Make people laugh.”
We were also able to observe this effect by testing 2 Old Navy back-to-school commercials: one with a celebrity and one without. With a celebrity, the combination of a higher emotional peak at 7.5% and the celebrity presence resulted in 96% brand recall.
Without a celebrity, the combination of a slightly less emotionally impactful commercial at 7% and no celebrity presence resulted in 86% brand recall.
Above, you can watch a moving SEEN map and emotional response during the Old Navy commercial with Amy Schumer.
From this study, we can conclude that the combination of a significant emotional play and the presence of a celebrity can maximize the likelihood that a brand will be remembered and ultimately purchased. We provided biometric evidence to these long-held advertising principles.
While these findings might not be revolutionary, this is a great reminder for any marketer, advertiser, brand manager, or market researcher that they’re marketing to human beings who are engaging with content all day long on screen and in real life—billboards, targeted Instagram ads, television commercials, and more.
People won’t remember something—and then act on it—unless it elicits an emotional response.
Joey Goldberg is a Marketing Manager at Sticky by Tobii Pro, a web-based eye tracking and facial coding platform. Joey is a graduate from Columbia University with a degree in psychology.