Emotional resonance in advertising is hugely valuable – so why is it so rare throughout the rest of the customer journey?

The best ads (including these three examples) use personality to hook the audience. So why is the rest of the customer journey so... lifeless?

August 9, 2021
Emotional resonance in advertising is hugely valuable – so why is it so rare throughout the rest of the customer journey?

We hate ads, until we love them. Until we can’t stop asking people if they’ve seen them. Until we can’t stop thinking about a punchline, a reveal or a perfect song selection. In short, we hate ads that don’t resonate with us on an emotional level.

Which is why brands focus on making emotionally impactful ads – ones we care about – and putting them in front of the right audiences.

This doesn’t come cheap. According to Business Insider, US TV advertisement spending nearly hit $20 billion for the 2020-21 TV season. To change the perspective, a fabled 30-second TV spot during a Super Bowl ad break costs almost $6 million.

We mention television, but the same psychology of advertising also transfers into the digital world, in which $378 billion was spent worldwide last year! Brands are spending big on creating emotionally impactful advertisements for top-of-funnel marketing. Why? Because it works.

But what happens next? What happens once the advertisement stops rolling, the call to action is made, and people go to buy or at least learn more? Here’s where it can all get a bit disconnected.

So let’s look at what makes ads so powerful as a marketing and sales tool, and how that might be brought in to have an impact on the rest of the marketing funnel.

How much money is spent of advertising in 2021?

What makes a great ad? Advertising psychology and emotional resonance

You don’t have to be a modern-day Don Draper to know that advertising is about selling the emotional impact the product or service – or the brand as a whole.

Think about how ads for banks show families in their newly purchased homes, not waiting in line to see a mortgage broker. Smartphone manufacturers focus on the moments people capture with their cameras, and insurance companies seem to show literally anything except people staring blankly at a policy document.

It’s about emotion. The joy of moving into your first home, the fun of taking memorable photos, the sense of security from being covered for unfortunate events. It’s otherwise known as affective advertising.

Around a third (31%) of the best performing advertising campaigns analyzed by USC focused on emotional content. Only 16% of these top ads used rational content to promote their wares.

“Emotional response to an ad,” USC researchers explain, “has far greater influence on a consumer’s intent to buy a product than the ad’s content does.”

Similarly, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology says that understanding some elements of psychology can help advertisers make an impact on people in an era where their attention spans are being constantly tested. One of the lessons the school listed is the “verbatim effect”, which describes consumers’ indifference to “long, unnecessary” advertising messages full of overwhelming details.

Consumers might not be able to remember a full sales pitch, but they sure remember how it made them feel. The better a company can focus on concepts and emotional impact, the more their messages will resonate.

Most effective affective advertising and emotional resonance tactics

Affective advertising relies on personality

Likeability is the most effective emotional response people can have towards your ads – it being the most correlated with an increase in sales, USC finds.

But it isn’t the only emotion brands want people to feel. The most recurring include pride, love, empathy, loneliness and friendship, nostalgia and the feeling of achievement.

These aren’t just intangible emotions thrust into the advertising ether. Brands need something to connect them with the audience. They need a personality.

That personality can be human, or we can anthropomorphize emotional connection into animals or even objects.

We see the success or struggle of that personality. We bond with them, see their journey, empathize, laugh, cry and otherwise emotionally react to what they’re doing on the screen. What happens to the personality doesn’t even have to tie in to the product or service being advertised; some of the most successful ads just create a brand connection around shared values.

Let’s show you what we mean.

Three examples of affective advertising at its best

1. Budweiser – Lost Dog

Emotional responses: Empathy, camaraderie, sadness, happiness, friendship
Personalities: Man, dog, horse, wolf, more horses
Random user comment: “I feel like when the head of marketing presented this to the board, he got a Don Draper round of applause.”

To prove that emotional resonance is more important than showing the product look no further than this Super Bowl Budweiser advertisement. There’s not a bottle in sight. Instead, the spot focuses on a dog, a horse and a man – characters and personalities we can understand and empathize with.

As well as stealing hearts and minds, Budweiser has been ranked as the best Super Bowl commercial in three of the past six outings, with sales volume and revenues increasing 3.9% and 4.7% respectively in response.

2. Lotto Powerball New Zealand – Imagine (Armored Truck)

Emotional responses: Humor, friendship, concern, peril, relief, camaraderie, joy.
Personalities: Security driver, Satish, dispatch guy.
Advertising award judge’s comment: “Affective advertising is often about where you choose to stand … in this case they chose to stand not on what you could spend the money you win on, but what you do and the difference you could make.” Mark Earls, Effie International Judge.

For 95% of this award-winning commercial, you don’t know it’s an ad for Lotto New Zealand. You’re just watching two characters – workmates and friends – chatting about what they’d do with a ton of money. And then contemplating a Thelma and Louise-style heist (or so we’re led to believe).

How you’d spend your money is the exact type of relatable hypothetical questioning you’ve probably bombarded a colleague with while bored at work. As a viewer, you’re not thinking about a product, you’re hearing the impact winning the Lotto would have on the lives of the characters. Maybe you’re even answering the questions for yourself as you watch.

Ultimately, with the big reveal of the story, the emotive outpouring is about the joy of winning, not even spending. And for that, you need to see a human reaction to winning.

3. Progressive – The Ad Where Nothing Happens

Emotional responses: Likeability, empathy, humor, nostalgia, warmth.
Personalities: Flo, Jamie, homeowner, three-fifths of N*sync(!)
Random YouTube user comment: “Me: ‘I don’t understand commercials or billboards. It’s not like I’m ever going to buy something because of marketing’. Also Me: ‘Look, if you don’t switch us to Progressive, I will straight out divorce you’.”

This low-key Progressive commercial plays off the audience’s expectations that something “wacky” usually happens in insurance ads. Not so here. In 2021, after months of social isolation, just having Flo and Rodney in the customer’s house seems strangely emotional.

“We’ve all been through a lot this year,” says Flo, showing empathy towards the homeowner’s likely situation. The customer needs support and protection – and empathy, shown in the faces of her fictional Progressive reps.

Of course, that only serves to provide the comic relief when three-fifths of N*Sync burst into the house. So, by the time the commercial wraps up, we’ve felt a range of emotions, all delivered by some of the most well-rounded ambassadors in the business.

For many of us, the nostalgia hit would only have been exceeded if N*Sync had sung “Bye Bye Bye” as they left the set. But we’ll leave the scripting to the experts.

Why does personality and emotional connection stop there in the marketing journey?

Imagine you’re a customer ready to buy. What do you do next?

Well, you’ll likely turn to the internet. You might browse a website, ask a chatbot some questions, jump on a live chat, scour through FAQs, or fill in a website application form.

In terms of an emotionally impactful customer journey, all of these digital tools are like a huge roadblock. Where’s the personality, the brand, the fun and the emotional resonance that encouraged customers to join you?

Companies know how to trigger these responses through top-of-funnel marketing and advertising, and not just in television. One glance at the Geico Gecko’s Instagram page and personality practically oozes from the app. It’s bringing these connections further down the customer journey (down the middle and bottom of the marketing funnel) that’s proving much rarer.

At these points, companies stop doing what worked and start doing something else instead. Why?

When did any website form, chatbot or other web interaction make you feel happiness, joy, friendship, likeability or any of the other emotions advertising personalities portray so well? What would Don Draper say?

And, more importantly, how can personality be put into the marketing journey?

Using digital humans for end-to-end emotional connection

Welcome to the world of digital humans. Because what’s more human than speaking face to face? Or having a dedicated person helping to guide you? Particularly in the saturated world of marketing.

We’ve gone from seeing (consciously and subconsciously) 500 ads a day in the ‘70s, to up to 5,000 ads per day today. The number of display ads shown online each year is as high as 5.3 trillion. If each ad was a dollar bill, the stack of money would build a tower far beyond the moon.

With so many vying for attention, is it a surprise brands increasingly rely on building the type of emotional engagement and connection we’re hardwired to love as people?

It’s then no surprise that brands are looking to add more humanity into their customer journeys. Close to half (42%) of companies we surveyed want to make their chatbots more human. It makes sense when 82% of people say they want more human customer experiences.

Digital humans exist for that purpose. They take the brand’s values, messaging and purpose and embody all that into a personality. Customers can chat to that personality in real time, ask it important questions they need answered before they sign up, or guide them towards a conversion.

Digital humans use facial expressions, tone of voice and body language to show emotions like friendliness, approachability, warmth, empathy, humor and many other emotions.

It’s about interactions, not just transactions – an ethos the advertising industry has known for a long time. Digital humans provide that throughout the marketing journey, for the first time.

We saw this ourselves recently with our Digital Einstein experience. Yes, a regular conversational AI would be able to offer the practical experience of conversing with perhaps the most famous scientist to ever live, but how does the man’s famous personality come through? Without hearing his voice – without seeing his emotional range, his facial expressions when he tells a joke – or his body language when talking about his wife, how do we emotionally connect with him?

We’re confident that Digital Einstein’s wouldn’t have been half as impactful if he was a chatbot, text box or website form.

Digital Einstein statistics infographic

Start your digital human innovation today

Emotional resonance in advertising helps people engage with the message, but a marketing journey that reinforces these connections is even more impactful. Digital humans can bring a company’s brand and its characters to life, and help its ads become something truly memorable.

Getting started isn’t as daunting as you might think. If you already have a chatbot or use NLP like IBM Watson, Dialogflow or Lex, you can start using UneeQ Creator and create a digital human POC in minutes. Our platform integrates with any NLP or chatbot platform out there.

Get in touch and you can start your free trial of UneeQ Creator (no commitment or credit card necessary). Or as 3/5ths of N*Sync might sing, No Strings Attached.