Advertisers have become increasingly successful at pulling on consumers’ heartstrings, but new research also reveals a rise in negative and more polarised emotional responses to ads.

A large-scale study of consumers’ emotional involvement with adverts by emotion-AI company Affectiva shows that in some cases negative emotions, like sadness, can still result in strong engagement and sales. However, upon digging deeper, the analysis suggests that advertisers should do more to generate positive responses in their audience.

The study was carried out by analysing Affectiva’s emotion database, which consists of 10 million consumer responses to more than 53,000 ads in 90 countries, collected over the last eight years. AI analyses people’s facial expressions as they watch the ads to determine their emotions.

Overall, there is an increase in audiences’ emotional reaction to ads, and an increase in more negative reactions, such as frowning and downturned mouths, rather than smiling.

The trends have been magnified in 2020 as the pandemic has impacted on people’s lives. The data shows that people respond positively to ads that reference the pandemic if concrete help is offered. Conversely, when brands approach the pandemic with generalities, there tends to be a more negative reaction. Overall, the reaction to “business as usual” messages and a touch of humour elicit more positive reactions.

The range of emotions displayed by people to the same content has become wider, with an increasing gap between highly positive and highly negative reactions. This may reflect the increasingly polarised viewpoints seen in wider society, researchers suggest.

The analysis also shows that just making a happy ad does not necessarily mean a happy response from an audience. Actors are more likely to smile than show any other kind of emotion when appearing in an ad, but viewers are actually far less likely to smile in response. Positive responses are far more likely to come from powerful stories – strong narratives are what generate strong emotions.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Rana el Kaliouby, co-founder and CEO of Affectiva, said, “The pandemic has prompted brands to rethink their advertising strategy; but we’ve found that cultivating positive emotional engagement in ads is often the best approach, both for business impact and for serving up the content that consumers are craving.

“If brands can help people deal with the pandemic, it makes sense to share that news, but advertisers should also remember that COVID has left today’s audiences fatigued, so in the absence of concrete help, dwelling on the pandemic may not be the best route forward. Brands have a unique opportunity to provide an escape from these issues, and we’re seeing that continue to have impact,” she added.

Sourced from Affectiva