The new John Lewis Christmas ad (amongst others) is now eagerly awaited each year, no doubt partly because it is a beautifully produced mini-story, but also, I believe, because the total result always makes us feel good.

If we were asked to dissect exactly why these ads make us happy, a variety of ideas would be given which would differ from person to person. Our answers would be biased by cognitive thought – as opposed to being driven by an unconscious and immediate reaction. Inaccurate or conflicting evaluations can occur when humans are asked to analyse something as our brains mix up our own beliefs, stereotypes and biases with our initial experience.

‘Thinking fast and slow’

Economics Nobel Prize Winner, Daniel Kahneman describes the mismatch between these two modes of thought, or ‘systems’, in his book ‘Thinking fast and slow’. ‘System 1’ is fast, instinctive and emotional; whereas ‘System 2’ is slower, more considered, and more logical. This mismatch of thought presents marketers and advertisers with a problem when trying to research or evaluate their campaigns, and suggests a need to consider both modes of thought.

Kahneman’s systems could be matched to two different types of research methodology and depending on what element of a campaign is being evaluated, a number of methods could be used together to get a fuller picture. System 2 appears to be better aligned with traditional methods such as questionaires, surveys and focus groups. But what about System 1? How can advertisers and marketers collect information on their customers’ instinctive and emotional viewpoints? A new article commissioned by WARC (Binet, Mullensiefen and Morrison, 2017) concluded that many ads ‘work by emotional priming, rather than rational messaging’ and so researching the elements which result in emotional brand building is key to creating an effective advert.

Several research techniques exist to gather System 1 or emotional intelligence including: Reaction Time Measurement (Implicit Attitude Testing); Eye Tracking; Facial Expression Recognition, Emotion Tracing and Psychophysiological Measures such as skin conductance (SCR) and heart rate monitoring.

‘Music gets under your skin’

The aforementioned WARC article, ‘ Marketing to the senses: Music gets under your skin’ explored this last technique using SCR to research the effectiveness of using music in ads. The researchers from adam&eveDDB, Goldsmiths University of London and Sensum showed 33 participants a set of 20 ads both with and without music (but all with identical voiceover) inserted into a TV documentary for context. Half of the ads shown had won an IPA Award and reported large business effects and the objective was to see if the results from the SCR correlated with the best-performing IPA ads.

The results showed that the best performing ads ‘triggered significantly more and stronger emotional reactions’ than the non IPA ads and these reactions reduced significantly when the music was removed. They concluded that:

‘advertising that gets under your skin and is targeting the senses and emotions can result in large commercial effects’.

Make a perfect customer pitch – music is powerful

We just need to think about movies such as Jaws; audio logos such as Intel, and ‘A Mars a Day’; and brand anthems used by companies such as Go Compare, to see the effectiveness of music to recall a film or brand and/or evoke a specific emotion.

Wouldn’t it be smart to use a little more process in evaluating the use of emotion in advertising and marketing? Quick and painless research methods now exist to remove the reliance on our unconscious biases or System 2 process of for example choosing a piece of music or audio logo by committee. We could be getting so much clearer feedback (the good kind).

Sources: Brainy Bar 4 (24/04/2017), specifically presentations by Daniel Mullensiefen and Ian Murray; Kahneman, D. (2011) ‘Thinking fast and slow’, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Binet, Mullensiefen and Morrison, (2017), ‘Marketing to the senses: Music gets under your skin’. Article commissioned by WARC.com; Sturdza, T (2016) ‘Tortoise and Hare Marketing’ (blog)