The message in advertising is irrelevant, new research shows

December 4, 2006

Creativity and emotion are what makes advertising successful, not the message it is trying to get over, new research shows. Dr Robert Heath, from the University of Bath’s School of Management, found that advertisements with high levels of emotional content enhanced how people felt about brands, even when there was no real message.

However, advertisements which were low on emotional content had no effect on how favourable the public were towards brands, even if the ad was high in news and information.

Dr Heath, working with the research company OTX, tested 23 TV ads that were on air at the time in the USA and 20 that were on air in the UK, for their levels of emotional and rational content.

They then asked a second sample of 200 people in each country how favourable they were towards the brands in the advertisements. Those who had been exposed to ads with high emotional content showed a marked positive shift in their favourability towards the brand. But those who had seen ads with low emotional content showed no real shift in favourability, even when they had a high level of news and information.

In a paper in the December issue of Journal of Advertising Research, Dr Heath cites the Renault Clio as an example of successful emotional advertising. Launched in the UK in 1992, the firm avoided running a straightforward factual campaign in favour of the 'Papa/Nicole' series of ads about philandering French people.

"The launch of the Renault Clio was an outstanding success, despite the ad failing to communicate the main message of small car convenience and big car luxury" says the paper. "The success…suggests that it was some aspect of the emotional appeal of the scenario portrayed that influenced viewers."

The findings question "the assumption in most advertising models that it is the communication of the factual message that gives advertising its persuasive power. It seems to be the case that those who want their advertising to build strong relationships between the consumer and the brand would be well advised to focus more attention on the emotional metacommunication – the creativity – in their advertisements, than they do on the rational message communication."

The paper also suggests that evoking positive emotions lowers attention, making people less likely to realise that their emotions are being influenced.

But the research says that advertisers who want to get particular information across have a problem: the most effective advertisements seem to be those with little information and a lot of emotional content.

Dr Heath, who wrote the best-selling monograph The Hidden Power of Advertising, and has worked in advertising and marketing for 30 years, said of his findings: "It has been believed in the advertising industry for some years that the creative idea gives the brand a competitive edge, and that the claims in advertising are often there just to allow the brand to set up a dialogue with the consumer.

"Our research findings seem to indicate this is true. In advertising, it appears to be the case that it’s not what you say, but the way that you say it, that gets results."

Source: University of Bath

Explore further: Pharmaceutical advertising can empower patients

Related Stories

Pharmaceutical advertising can empower patients

October 17, 2017

Autumn is flu season and that means it is high season for pharmacies selling over-the-counter cold and flu remedies. Those who aren't reminded by their own running noses, are sure to be alerted to these types of pharmaceutical ...

Personifying places can boost travel intentions

August 22, 2017

People who see animals as people and assign human traits to non-human objects are more likely to travel to destinations that are presented as being human-like, according to Queensland University of Technology (QUT) research.

Caricatures become an obsession

September 21, 2017

For Anokhy Desai, a new haircut or outfit requires more than a trip to the shopping center. These days, she also finds herself also diving into the Bitmoji app to chop hair and replace clothes.

How advertisers seduce our subconscious

August 24, 2016

In 1957 Vance Packard's book The Hidden Persuaders shocked the world by revealing that messages exposed subliminally, below our level of perception, were able to increase sales of ice cream and Coke. The experiment he cited ...

Recommended for you

Metacognition training boosts gen chem exam scores

October 20, 2017

It's a lesson in scholastic humility: You waltz into an exam, confident that you've got a good enough grip on the class material to swing an 80 percent or so, maybe a 90 if some of the questions go your way.

Scientists see order in complex patterns of river deltas

October 19, 2017

River deltas, with their intricate networks of waterways, coastal barrier islands, wetlands and estuaries, often appear to have been formed by random processes, but scientists at the University of California, Irvine and other ...

Six degrees of separation: Why it is a small world after all

October 19, 2017

It's a small world after all - and now science has explained why. A study conducted by the University of Leicester and KU Leuven, Belgium, examined how small worlds emerge spontaneously in all kinds of networks, including ...

Ancient DNA offers new view on saber-toothed cats' past

October 19, 2017

Researchers who've analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from ancient samples representing two species of saber-toothed cats have a new take on the animals' history over the last 50,000 years. The data suggest that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.