Emotional Advertising

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By: Shea Posey, Senior Account Executive and Jake McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer

February 3, 2002. Super Bowl XXXVI. Most people probably don’t remember who played, let alone who won. However, if you were alive and old enough to be cognizant of your surroundings, you will most likely never forget seeing the Budweiser “Respect” commercial that featured the iconic Clydesdale horses paying homage to the victims of 9/11 as they took a bow in front of the forever-altered New York City skyline. Whether you were at a Super Bowl party with 40 other people or watching alone in the comfort of your own home, it was a perfect cathartic moment that quietly expressed what most Americans were feeling at the time.

That commercial only aired once, but because of the highly emotional message delivered with just the right tone and at a time when our nation was still reeling, once was enough. Twenty years later, if you were to mention the ad in a roomful of your peers, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t remember where they were and who they were with when they saw it.

So, what was it about that commercial that made it so memorable? Why do some ads stay with us while others fade away without so much as a second thought? Even with the most recent Super Bowl spots fresh on our minds, there are some commercials that just stood out more than others. Why is that? It all comes down to how we store information from a System 1 perspective. We store emotional information in a separate part of the brain than we store other types of information.

Now, this isn’t some new revelation. In fact, a study from 1986 reminds us that emotionally-driven commercials have much higher recall for episodic memories, meaning that we remember the time and place of an event when it’s highly emotional. It’s clear from this year’s Super Bowl spots that some brands are fully aware of how impactful emotional advertising can be, not only in the moment, but how impactful they can also be long-term.

Take, for instance, the Kia EV6 “Robo Dog” commercial. This spot stood out, not only for mixing in a little nostalgia with Bonnie Tyler’s epic rock ballad, but because it tugged at your heartstrings as you followed the puppy in its desperate pursuit of a forever home. The puppy might not have been real, but the emotions evoked certainly were.

Emotional advertising doesn’t necessarily have to bring a tear to your eye. “Dream House with Anna Kendrick and Barbie” from Rocket Homes/Rocket Mortgage struck a chord, especially among Gen Xers, because it harkened back to the days of Saturday morning cartoons and even blew a kiss to Castle Grayskull. Seeing something that takes us back to the carefree days of our youth can help form a strong emotional connection with a brand.

Whether they make us laugh or cry, the one thing the most memorable ads have in common is that they elicit emotion. Therefore, as marketers, we should be emotionally driven in our creative. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that ads that evoke negative emotions, intentionally or not, also have a high recall rate. That means that if your brand produces a commercial that causes fear, stress, anxiety, or disgust – even if it’s only meant to draw attention in the near term – those negative emotions will still be memorable. So, when consumers recall the ad, they will also recall the negative emotion, creating a negative feedback loop, which you likely will want to avoid because that negative association will hurt brand value in the long run.

The psychology of emotional memory has a profound impact on how consumers process and remember ads. By leveraging what we know about memory science, we’re able to create ads that form an emotional connection, which in turn increases brand affinity. Give us a call at 833-579-1905 or email us at [email protected] to discuss how we can help you turn psychological insights into great creative advertising.