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In the mood for advertising

20 Sep 2017  |  William Hanmer-Lloyd 
In the mood for advertising

Total Media's William Hanmer-Lloyd explains how our mood impacts how we process information and the decisions we make

Last year, Netflix told us, “Geography, age and gender? We put that in the garbage heap,” as they moved to group users into ‘clusters’ of common taste. Using just key demographics, such as race, gender and age, to target groups is becoming a habit of the past and advertisers are increasingly recognising the benefits of emotional targeting.

So how much of an effect does our mood really have on our decisions?

In a 2011 study looking at the pattern of decision making of thousands of judges, it was found that the chance of parole being granted was 65% in the morning, but nearly 0% near lunchtime, as the hunger started to impact the judge’s mood. The probability of parole being granted increased again after lunch.

These are experienced professionals who work incredibly hard to try and ensure their decisions are consistent, and not influenced by their emotions, and yet they can’t remove the significant influence of mood. In which case, what chance do most consumers have?

Our mood does not only affect the decisions we make but also how we process information. In a 1980s study, participants were provided with a story about two characters playing tennis - one who was happy and upbeat and one who was sad and downbeat.

Participants were made happy or sad by a posthypnotic suggestion, and they were then more likely to identify with the character who matched their emotion, and consider them to be the main character in the story. Interestingly, the next day the participants were then better able to recall information about the character that had correlated to their mood.

These studies show that the mood someone is in when they hear or see an ad can significantly impact the effectiveness of that ad - as it influences what they remember and any immediate actions they then decide to take.

For example, a research project at the University of Amsterdam asked participants to read through a newspaper and then answer questions about which ads they could remember. They found that readers who were in a positive mood remembered 28% more ads than those in a bad mood.

This is supported by research from Yahoo which shows that people are likely to spend longer engaging with content when in an upbeat mood, watching video on average for 22% longer.

However there are many situations where targeting negative moods or contexts could be effective for a brand.

The paper ‘Fear and Loving in Las Vegas: Evolution, Emotion, and Persuasion’ Griskevicius et al suggested that an ad that makes a social claim about a product, for example “everybody’s doing it” or “over one million sold” is more effective when consumers are in a state of fear, as it promotes an instinctive adaptive strategy - the same strategy behind the survival of our species - to join together with others.

Targeting negative moods can also be used to improve the likelihood that participants will give to charity. Research by Cialdini and Kennck found that when a group of teens were experimentally induced into a depressed mood they exhibited increased generosity in comparison to the neutral mood control group. The altruism acted as self-gratification to help improve their negative moods.

Finally, other negative moods can be conducive to certain key behaviours. Several psychological studies have shown that when people are challenged by demanding cognitive tasks they are more likely to yield to temptation.

In one study participants were asked to retain a list of seven digits in memory and given a choice between a sinful chocolate cake or a virtuous fruit salad.

Participants who were placed under this pressured task - versus those not asked to retain any digits - were more likely to yield to the temptation of the chocolate cake.

Ads that can reach consumers with tempting products whilst they are stressed, such as during a commute or when they are doing online life admin - surely the most stressful part of any person’s life - may find that they end up driving a greater number of sales.

As advertisers increasingly talk about and understand the benefit of using mood as a targeting tool, it is important we don’t only think about the more general recall wins to be had from targeting positive moods.

We should also consider that targeting negative moods, which we all experience (and that ‘Inside Out’ taught us are a key and important part of everyday life) may also represent an opportunity for those cases when the ad messaging or product speak more effectively to a negative mindset.


William Hanmer-Lloyd is behavioural planning director at Total Media

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