Do ads that tug at our heartstrings really make us buy more? - The Brightest Minds series

17 Jul 2017

  • Customer Experience
  • Strategy
  • Thought leadership
  • New thinking

“The more people feel the more they buy.”

So says Tom Ewing, ‎senior director, at the research arm of the UK firm System1 Group.
According to Ewing, if you want someone to keep handing over cash, keep on tugging at their heartstrings. “It's all about emotion,” he says. “Human beings make decisions quickly, intuitively and are guided by emotions. When something feels like a good choice and your brain says yes, you can come up with a reason later.”

Sounds simple but according to Ewing, it’s not simply a case of loading up the ad with emotion and being done with it. There’s almost a formula that needs to be followed and ads can always be optimised from an emotional standpoint. He says: “Too much positive emotion later in the ad can lead to an unsatisfying ad. Similarly, if you just let the emotion taper off. It’s all about structure.”

Ewing’s work is rooted in research and he says there are a number of ways to make people feel stuff when interacting with ads. “There is a range of things that trigger positive associations with the brand and they're not just the logo or the slogan,” he says. “There are signature properties, such as the particular shade of red that Coca-Cola uses. There are particular characters, or what we call fluent devices, which are situations that occur execution to execution across a campaign. These things build and are a way to have an advert be strongly tied to a brand without having to resort to the dreaded 10 seconds of product shots at the end.”

Music is also of crucial importance to the emotional impact. Ewing explains: “There's one example where we had one version of an ad with a boy band track and one with a ‘70s soft rock hit. The ‘70s soft rock did much better because it was more congruent with the mood of the ad, the setting and the characters who were a little bit older.”

Voiceover complicates matters further and Ewing says he often advises advertisers to ditch it all together. He says: “Because they're desperate to get the message of their ad across, they put in a lot of voiceover to explain what's going on. But if you've got a strong emotional story, you can do with less voiceover because the music and the visuals will carry the emotions along.”

While this is all well and good for television commercials and videos, do the same principles apply to other forms of advertising? Can you actually elicit positive emotions with, say, banner ads? Ewing says it’s possible and he cites a colleague who conducted a study into the emotional impact of online advertising. The findings, according to Ewing, were that richer media has a better chance of inciting an emotional response.

Ewing refers to a display campaign produced for a charity to prevent human trafficking. He says the work was hard-hitting and emotional proving any medium can apply this approach. He adds: “You can have highly emotional print media advertising but ultimately, video is the best way to do it, whether that be TV or online because video engages the senses so much.”

While this might all seem fairly obvious, Ewing says advertisers have a surprising habit of dodging emotion. “If you're trying to communicate, it's stranger to avoid emotion than it is to include it. But a lot of adverts tend to try to suppress emotion in order to try to get the product message across.”

Not on Ewing’s watch they won’t.

For more insights into the drivers of consumer behaviour, don't miss out on the chance to hear Tom Ewing speak at ADMA Global Forum 2017.

Need more info?