The most effective advertising is based on emotions but advertisers can also refine their efforts further to boost awareness and recall – and the peak-end rule applies not just to video ads, as a recent study shows, but to the wider consumer experience.

The peak-end rule, developed by Daniel Kahneman, posits that people tend not to evaluate the totality of any given experience but rather use the emotional peak and the end as a proxy for how they felt about the whole and forget the rest.

Research undertaken by video adtech firm Unruly, facial recognition company Affectiva, and the consultant Richard Shotton, divided nine ads into three groups based on the level of emotional response: a control group had an even pattern of emotional response, with few clear peaks; a second ‘multiple peaks’ group showed several emotional highs through the course of the ads; a third ‘end peak’ group showed a clear emotional peak towards the end of the ad.

These were then shown to 1,200 people, with researchers following up a week later to see which ads participants remembered and which particular elements of those ads they could recall. In a blog post, Graham Page, Global Managing Director, Media Analytics, Affectiva, states that “the results showed clear support for the power of emotion in driving memorability, and for the preferential role of emotional peaks”.


• Ad recall: this was significantly higher in the multiple peak (31%) and end peak (43%) groups than the control group (23%).

• Brand recall: this was three times higher in the multiple peak group (32%) and two times higher in the end peak group (21%) than in the control group (10%).

• Participants were also more likely to correctly recall details of the ads with strong emotional peaks than the control group.

It’s evidence that emotion alone is not enough to produce effective advertising – advertisers should seek to ensure the brand is present at peak moments of emotion if more people are to remember them.

The peak-end rule can be applied to all aspects of a brand experience, not just advertising, and that’s something brands should also consider during the coronavirus pandemic, according to William Hanmer-Lloyd and Stephanie Watson of Total Media.

“If brands can provide one exceptionally positive and memorable experience through the crisis period, then the emotional intensity experienced is likely to be what consumers learn to associate with that brand long term,” they explained in a recent WARC article.

“This could range from free delivery for goods ordered online, unexpected bonuses for new customers, or information about how you are helping frontline workers during the crisis – anything that creates a surprising peak positive memory for new customers to recall as they enter the recovery.” (For more details, read the article in full: The long-term impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviour.)

Sourced from Unruly, Affectiva, Shotton; additional content by WARC staff