PARIS/MUMBAI: Brands have traditionally focused on positive emotions in their marketing but there is mileage in embracing "grey" emotions – those sentiments that aren't exactly negative but may involve an element of malevolence that leads to "warped gratifications".

In an ESOMAR paper presented in Paris, Sandeep Dutta, senior vice president at TNS Qualitative, India, outlined a qualitative research project among metro youth aged 18 to 26 that explored their darker feelings – often experienced at a subconscious level – using a confession booth and an online forum in which they were encouraged to share stories and anecdotes with "grey" content.

These stories fell into three broad clusters, he reported: a craving for fun and enjoyment bordering on anti-social and immoral behaviour; a desire to win at any cost; and a constant need to be in the limelight.

These, he noted, coincided with what psychologists term "the dark triad of personality": psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism.

While the scale of the study was small, Dutta said that when one saw the intensity with which consumers described their grey consumption moments, "it becomes quite clear that dark emotions do play a significant role in triggering consumption and/or enriching product experiences in certain contexts of life".

A second stage of the study exposed consumers to a series of ads with grey content, such as "There will be haters" from sportswear brand Adidas, which resonated strongly. Participants agreed that when people achieve success, they evoke stronger feelings of envy and jealousy than love and goodwill in their peer group.

"It was quite evident that the brand has the ability to evoke narcissistic tendencies amongst consumers as they see an Adidas pair of shoes giving them an aura of vanity and status," Dutta wrote.

He added that there was a cognitive association between grey emotions and consumption pleasures in hedonic domains: "consumers find brands with 'grey' attractive and intriguing."

Marketers ought to consider the possibility of moving beyond conventional positive emotions to tap into the greys at the time of creating brand DNA, he advised.

Data sourced from ESOMAR