Understanding facial expressions, such as smiles and nose wrinkles, can help marketers assess the likelihood of a consumer sharing a video ad, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Daniel McDuff (Microsoft Research) and Jonah Berger (The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania) discussed this subject in a paper entitled, Why do some advertisements get shared more than others? Quantifying facial expressions to gain new insights.

Headline findings

  • Smiles were found to be most “positively and most strongly associated with sharing”, with a 30% increase in smiling associated with a 10% lift in willingness to share.
  • A lip corner depressor, associated with sadness, and a furrowed brow, linked with confusion, were both “negatively associated with sharing”.
  • Nose wrinkling, associated with disgust, was “positively associated with sharing”, indicating that specific negative emotions can encourage this activity.
  • Smiles recorded at the end of a video had an “even more positive effect” on sharing than the favourable impact delivered by smiles at the start of a piece of content.

Smiles and sharing intent vary by country

The frequency of smiles varied in different markets – not to the extent of explaining any “differences in magnitude” in sharing intent – but which still provided useful insights related to individualism and collectivism:

  • Connections between smiling and sharing proved to be largest in the US and UK, which also had the “largest individualism indices” of the nations assessed.
  • China logged the lowest score on this measure, which has the “smallest individualism index”.
  • France and Germany recorded “intermediate” scores for individualism, and for the relationship between smiling and sharing.
  • The “smile base rate” peaked in the US (where 5.6% of video frames featured a smile), ahead of Germany (4.5%), France (4.4%), the UK (4.3%) and China.

As participants in this group of countries watched different videos, and because smiles can mean distinct things in particular cultures, not too many inferences can be made from the results, the authors cautioned. “That said, these disparities are suggestive and highlight that examining cross-cultural differences in emotion and sharing is a valuable direction for future work,” they wrote.


The study involved 2,106 participants, each of which viewed ten from a sample of 230 video ads that were drawn from a pool of major brands in various categories, and were between 20 and 120 seconds in length.

Automated facial coding then tracked responses by looking for five commonly-occuring signs of response: smiles, outer eyebrow raises, brow furrows, lip corner depressors and nose wrinkles.

The big idea

“Most advertisements already try to make people smile, but the current findings suggest that certain negative emotions, such as disgust, may boost transmission as well” – Daniel McDuff, Microsoft Research, and Jonah Berger, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Sourced from JAR