The Key to Advertising Efficacy: Emotional Engagement

Written By: Christina Colledani

In today's day and age consumers are exposed to more advertisements than ever before. Given this widespread reality, it is now ever more challenging for companies and agencies to develop commercials that generate genuine connections with their target audiences. Therefore, coming up with methods to measure the efficacy of an advertising campaign is an important concern for companies and advertising experts.

More than half a century ago, a conceptual model referred to as the ‘Hierarchy of Effects’ (Lavidge and Steiner, 1961) was originally introduced to interpret the efficacy of advertising. This conceptual model was founded on a series of processes involved in the influential ability that an advertisement can have on a consumers’ purchasing decision.

A consumer is believed to process and respond to an advertisement through the distinct hierarchy of the model which includes a cognitive, an affective and a behavioral stage. These stages constitute the evolution of consumer learning and decision-making as a response to advertising. Essentially, this process entails gathering conscious information while building preferences and emotional connections that will eventually result in consumer action. However simple this may seem, there is much more that goes into understanding consumer behavior in the decision-making process.


Emotions have been suggested to be good predictors of advertising effectiveness (Poels and Dewitte, 2006), and have been shown to have a significant impact in the cognitive process (Hamelin et al., 2017). When we relate to a certain message, it usually captivates our attention and influences our connection with it. This emotional connection strengthens our propensity for encoding this event to memory.

But, exactly how strong is this emotional connection? Emotions significantly influence a person’s response to receiving a message (Mai and Schoeller, 2009; Lewinski et al., 2014). Strong emotional engagement may encourage a consumer to perceive and remember a certain advertisement or campaign. Therefore, using an emotive message in advertising enhances the consumers attention to the advert, while boosting the products desirability and increasing brand recall.

Advertisements that are emotionally engaging are, in fact, more effective.

Emotions have been shown to impact cognitive functions, particularly, attention (Vuilleumier, 2005), learning and memory (Phelps, 2004). Emotional stimuli appear to use more attentional resources than those who are not (Schupp et al., 2007). And so, since it is widely acknowledged that emotions have a strong influence on memory and recall, why not elicit the correct emotions in target consumers and motivate them to take action?

Consumer decisions are heavily influenced by emotional connections. Being faced with a decision, former emotions and similar experiences influence how we consider our options. According to Antonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, we do this by assigning values to possibilities to create preferences, (Nance, 2020). This may also relate to how our unconscious biases influence how we perceive messages, stimuli and experiences. We all hold unconscious beliefs and attitudes, and these biases stem from our innate way of categorizing our world.

To fully comprehend consumer purchasing behavior, we must thoroughly understand emotions, as well as the importance that these emotions have in decision-making. Advertisements can be categorized by their rational or emotional content, as they try to persuade the consumer by using logical or emotive themes and messages.

Nonetheless, using emotive content seems to influence the consumer to a greater extent. This emotive content derives from feelings we exhibit daily or even from our past experiences, and thus this gives us an opportunity to connect with a message or theme on a deeper level. An example of this may be loneliness, love, achievement, joy or empathy. But how do we measure the effectiveness of an advertisement through emotions?

Performance Measures

Advertisements have long been measured with the use of analytical metrics and numerical outputs, however, these metrics do not provide any insights on how consumers and target audiences really feel.

Consumer neuroscience intends to bridge this gap with the use of neuroimaging technologies and biometric measurements that enable the collection of objective data about the consumers' emotions. Some examples of these technologies are eye-tracking, facial recognition, galvanic skin response (GSR) and electroencephalography (EEG). With the use of neuroscientific techniques and biometric data, research scientists can gather deeper insights into the role of emotion in advertising.

A recent study used facial recognition to record and analyze facial expressions along with other indicators, to measure emotions and participant involvement for the evaluation of an advertisement spot (Otamendi and Sutil Martin, 2020). Researchers were interested in quantifying the perception of an advertisement through attention, engagement, valence, and joy. Their findings demonstrate that the advertisement was emotionally successful since it elicited statistically higher involvement and positive emotions in the target population compared to the rest of the groups.

What can we learn from this? Emotions are effective predictions of advertisement liking and can be used to determine an advertisement's emotional efficacy in the target population. In fact, a combination of emotions can be observed in specific groups of consumers that clearly pinpoint them to their stage life (Otamendi and Sutil Martin, 2020), and thus, emotions are the key to how we perceive and connect with messages or elements presented in advertisements.

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