It is estimated that more than 180 million viewers will have tuned into Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, as ever, marketers will study the data to find out which ads scored a hit.

But what does it take to create an ad that’s so engaging that consumers choose to share it themselves, making it go viral?

A new academic study, conducted by Professor Jonah Berger from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Microsoft researcher Daniel McDuff, put this to the test using automated facial recognition technology and a machine-learning algorithm.

The research, which is outlined in the Harvard Business Review, found the best way to engage viewers is not just by stimulating positive emotions but by provoking ‘activating emotions’, which can be positive or negative.

Key takeaways

  • Marketers should aim to develop creative that is optimised to provoke these activating emotions and that they should use a similar methodology as that used in the study to better understand how ad content makes people feel.
  • The study tested hundreds of video ads on more than 2,000 participants from around the world and concluded that emotions are characterised by how activating, or ‘physiologically arousing’, they are – in other words, whether they fire people up.
  • Therefore, it is not enough for marketers to make viewers feel good about a brand. Instead, they must create content that excites, inspires and delights – essentially, content that triggers activating emotions.

Key quote

“Provoking positive, activating emotions increased the likelihood that a video would be shared the most, but when an ad provoked a negative activating emotion (i.e. disgust), viewers were also motivated to take action and share the video – even though it didn’t make them feel good. Conversely, emotions that were less activating (i.e. sadness) reduced the likelihood that the viewer would share the ad” – Professor Jonah Berger, University of Pennsylvania.

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Sourced from Harvard Business Review