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The Power and Potential of Emotion AI in Digital Advertising


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In a world revolving around smartphones and social media, it is no surprise that brands are feeling the pressure to grow their online presence.  But while churning out constant content and increasing ad spend may satisfy the platform algorithm to some degree, does the content appeal to consumers and positively impact brand perception and purchase behavior?  Jane Ostler and Ecem Erdem from Kantar and our own Graham Page from Affectiva go in depth as to what makes for a successful online creative in their joint webinar ‘Harness the Power of Emotion in Digital Advertising’.

With the rise of TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube and more, these platforms are readily available at the palm of our hand and have quickly become the primary way we digest content.  And to these platforms’ benefit, research is showing that people are becoming increasingly more receptive to online advertising, with digital video content being at the forefront. 

Further research from Kantar Link and WARC ROI databases point out that top performing high quality digital creative has the potential to generate 4.7 times more profit.  So there is a clear present need to determine how to accurately quantify the success and impact that a digital ad has on branded engagement, memorability and brand predisposition.  

For the most part, behavioral metrics have been the industry standard, but we find that simple attentional metrics cannot convey the full story. In fact, Kantar’s Link database shows that clickthrough stats does not correlate with brand impact, nor does a high completion rate equate to ad campaign success. The missing pieces of the puzzle is combining attitudinal responses and emotional engagement.  Our teams at Kantar and Affectiva went through several examples of top and bottom performers and identified key themes that they shared, showcasing results from the Link database and Affectiva’s Emotion AI technology in our joint webinar Harness the Power of Emotion in Digital Advertising.

The role of emotion in digital advertising

The strongest digital creatives were those that harnessed emotion in their content and leveraged it as a vehicle to deliver humor, storytelling, intrigue and positive resolution. 

True Classic’s ad It’s not you, it’s the Tee on TikTok is a great example of incorporating humor and storytelling to captivate their audience. The combination of a relatable storyline, a witty way of demonstrating the product and sprinkling in moments of unexpected and edgy humor proves to be a winner with the viewers.  Looking at our Emotion AI traces, we can see a mix of emotional reactions during this ad: brow furrow marks intrigue from the start, smiles coming through at the end and the moment of “You are a very good dad” followed by the baby in the stroller rolling away drove a mixed but predominantly positive response.

While humor is one of the main ways to prevent skipping ads, we also found that more serious and longer form content can break that mold and be successful.  One example of this is Kotex, Intimus's short film for YouTube.  The content takes viewers on an emotional journey as viewers watched Lea Campos overcome the stigma put upon her for being a woman striving to become one of the world’s first female referees. 

What made the Lea Campos short film a success was its use of artfully taking a topic such as sexism and the stigma of menstruation for working women and turning it into a powerful positive message for its audience, as evident by smiles coming through at the very end (above, blue). 

Understanding skipping behavior

Advertisers might be under the impression the ad will only be viewed for a couple of seconds before skipping, and therefore will develop content that is chock full of information in the first few seconds. Our data suggests otherwise. In analyzing our data, we believe that instead of injecting as much information as possible, advertisers' goal should be to leverage emotion to captivate your audience from the very beginning of the ad.  This in turn can decrease the likelihood of viewers skipping over the content.

Additionally, advertisers should also not be afraid of any time limitations with digital adverts. In the Kotex, Intimus Lea Campos short film, the majority of viewers watched the entirety of the nearly three minute ad.  We can see that viewers who watched the full ad were more intrigued (higher brow furrows) from the beginning and interested to see storyline progression.

For digital content where it is easy for people to jump from video to video, utilizing emotion as a key tool is a great way to pull people into your content.  The instant you can create that immediate emotional connection – be it curiosity, laughs or sadness – the less likely viewers are to skip your ad.  

Key takeaways 

The ad creative landscape has become increasingly complex as advertisers now need to learn how to make content that can thrive on print, TV and on digital platforms.  From our analysis, here are five key takeaways to help you build your next digital campaign:

  1. Intrigue early, close with positive feelings - grab your audience from the very first scene and give them a reason to continue watching.  Finish with a powerful and positive ending.
  2. Emotional positivity drives brand impact - construct a relevant and emotional connection between your brand and the viewer.  
  3. Create a dynamic emotional story to retain attention - take your viewer along for all the emotional highs and lows.  The most poignant storylines that keep eyes on the screen are those with both positive and negative moments.
  4. Connect with consumers through humor -  comedy is a great vehicle to use with your audience.  By creating these joyful moments, you humanize your brand and build affinity.
  5. Get the basics right – especially when giving the brand a role in the narrative resolution - just as you would with TV and print ads, the same principles apply to digital too.  Ensure you are establishing meaningfully different associations, driving branded engagement and creating both long and short-term brand disposition. 

See more examples and insights in Kantar and Affectiva’s webinar here.

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