Brainy Bar 7: a human understanding of emotional advertising.

Posted by Rebecca Hutchins on the 19th November, 2018

Three years (almost to the day) since our first ever Brainy Bar, the team at Walnut and WARC were excited to bring you the seventh Brainy Bar event hosted at Unlimited House. Once again it did not disappoint, promising an evening challenging our thinking about the role of emotional advertising and considering how our emotions influence other processes like memory and the role of motivation in developing effective communications.

Our host and the curator of these great events, Cristina Balanzo, Consultancy Director at Walnut Unlimited, opened the event sharing reflections from her recent Cannes effectiveness conference paper which showcased that emotion and humour were very much in evidence amongst this year’s winning cases.

The first speaker of the night was Dr Amy Milton, Lecturer in psychology and neuroscience at the University of Cambridge who gave us an introduction to how human memory works and how emotion can affect the encoding, storage and retrieval of our memories. Emotion can facilitate memory encoding, it has an optimum effect in which some emotion increases alertness and attention but too much can result in attentional narrowing often referred to as weapon focus.

She went on to explain other ways in which people’s mood and emotion make memory susceptible to influence. For example, in research conducted with depressed patients they are more likely to recall sad memories, those that are congruent with their emotional state. This is important for advertisers to think about too, such as considering matching scheduling with programming that matches the tone of the advert.

Finally, she explained the need to understand more about memory than simply relying on what people say, she stated that “Just because a memory is vivid doesn’t mean it is accurate”. Finishing with a great analogy she explained how our understanding of memory has evolved with new insights, previously being considered to operate like a typewriter, once it’s on a page it is final and not able to change but we now know how memory is easily edited and constantly being overwritten by subsequent experiences and information and time, working much more like a word document on a computer.

Next to take the stage was Phil Barden, Managing Director, DECODE Marketing and Author of Decoded. Building on Amy’s talk Phil spoke about how our understanding of memory, emotion and also motivation can be applied to creating more engaging and effective communications. He began also by highlighting the benefits emotion can have on memory. This would support well established principles that emotional advertising is more effective.Barden went on to challenge this belief: yes, emotional advertising can be successful but if evoking an emotional reaction in your audience was the only necessary ingredient then we should expect this to always be a winning formula, shouldn’t we? Phil shared some examples of where emotion had been used successfully in a creative but with little benefit to the brand, such as Budweiser’s animal ad (the cute animals) in which there was a high recall of the ad but not the brand and nor did it help to boost sales.

He went on to speak about how people are motivated by goals and that effective communication first needs to identify the goal directed behaviour it is targeting and there are many ways in which an advert can activate different goals but result in the same emotion. These goals can be categorized into six types: adventure, autonomy, discipline, enjoyment, security and excitement. This does not kill creativity as there are many ways in which these goals can be demonstrated in advertising and emotion can be used throughout this process.

Now for the panel discussion, chaired by CEO of TMW Unlimited, Chris Pearce. Joining the speakers on the panel was Justin Clouder, Senior strategist at TBWA, responsible for strategy on the Lidl account and the author of the 2018 Effie Grand Prix and 2018 IPA Effectiveness Gold winning papers on the four-year story of How Lidl Grew A Lot.

Justin Clouder, with firsthand experience of taking the results of ad testing with neuroscience to creatives for optimization, spoke about the challenges for planners distilling the science into the worlds of commerce and creative and how whilst the false dichotomies of emotional vs rational may oversimplify, they do play a role in helping to achieve this. He also spoke about the importance of the role of brands as an agent within the creative, they need to have a clear purpose and role in the story. Perhaps this also explains why the Budweiser ad was not effective for the brand as it had no clear purpose within the narrative. This chimes with what Cristina shared at the beginning of the evening around the importance of brands creating authentic stories which humanize their brand.

Thank you for joining us and supporting these events. It would not be possible without you …until next time.

If you would like to know more about the Brainy Bar or find out more about how Walnut can help you please contact:

Meet the Author: Rebecca Hutchins
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