Each day the average city dweller will view 5,000 advertisements, that’s an awful lot of information for one brain to compute. But what’s special about some of these messages are that they will continuously update our perceptions through thoughts, feelings and emotions. Not only products and services but political agendas and social movements are able to capture something inside us that at some level will change our behaviour (for better, or often for worse). As adverts are usually seen as an annoyance, or not even seen at all if you have the latest adblocker or a Netflix subscription, I wanted to try and use my blog post to change your perceptions of the importance of advertising and demonstrate the power of creating emotions.
Some of the most persuasive adverts can instil in us an overwhelming sense of affect, just look at any road safety advertisement and you’ll quickly have a visceral reaction to its content. However, often the association of positive connotations to an advertised object can be used in a beautiful manner. Take for example my favourite advert from a creative perspective for the Danish TV station TV 2. The title alone fosters images of togetherness and oneness; I dare you not to feel something warm and positive during watching: Watch here!
While this advert could be massively improved from a branding point of view, the takeaway messages are welcome reminders of individual and collective pulchritude, and that our idiosyncrasies should be celebrated not ostracised. Psychologically, what’s great about this advert is that by presenting such a vast range of individuals it enables a broad spectrum of viewers to identify with the characters enabling the message to personally resonate. The other fantastic element is the use of music in controlling the viewer’s physiological arousal to the visual and narrative components. I believe that adverts like this one can be a force for social good, encourage cohesiveness and just improve your mood, albeit transiently, while serving a commercial purpose.
In complete juxtaposition, in much of the political sphere the employment of negative connotations are often used to produce results at the ballot box. The effects of political ads are unquestionable, as knock-on effects are felt by us all. For example, regardless of your Brexit vote, the advertising effort ran by the vote leave campaign was one of the most dexterous uses of negative emotion ever seen, with it being espoused into every crafted message.
Above is one of the most memorable and controversial used, with comparisons being drawn to propaganda used by the Nazis during the holocaust. What is clever about this advert from a psychological perspective is that is activates our innate in-group/out group distinction, and then associates this with negative narratives that surround both immigration and the EU. While this is one of advertisings more abhorrent uses, like many others of its ilk these are powerful tools that demonstrate quite how effective advertising appeals can be.
To end on a slightly more cheery note, I now turn to the use of emotion in selling a product, or rather the use of a cohesive advertising campaign that has spanned decades to synonymise an emotion with a product. Look at any Coca Cola advert and perceptually you’ll be met with; a sea of the colour red (connotations of love, passion), the logo itself, several individuals sharing the product around while appearing elated at being in each other’s company, and quite of often a text reference to a feeling/emotion.
Quite simply this is the advertising jackpot. You are immediately activating associations of love, sharing with others, which as social creatures are innate driving forces. You’ve also got the logo/product present during viewing further tying the brand to that feeling. Finally, you have a related and instantly recognisable colour to act as a retrieval cue for the brand itself. So remember next time you purchase a coke, you are buying into a feeling inside yourself that Coke has been concocting as long as you’ve been viewing adverts.
At the beginning of the piece I stated that only some adverts are special. I hope that now you can see some of the recurring ingredients that go into making great advertising and that these carefully crafted messages with emotive devices do pull on your heartstrings, having a powerful sway over our thoughts, feelings and ultimately behaviour.
By Matthew Thompson (Psychology PhD Candidate)