In this feature Emotive® analytics seeks feedback from experts in areas related to emotional assessment. The initial questions come from Paul Conner. However, follow up questions can be submitted using the form below the article.
This installment of Ask the Emotional Expert features Paul Bolls, Associate Professor, Strategic Communication and Co-director of the PRIME Lab at the University of Missouri, Columbia. The PRIME Lab is dedicated to studying consumers’ neurophysiological reactions to various forms of media.
Conner: More and more we are learning that emotions drive humans’, and therefore consumers’, behavior. What are your thoughts about that?
Bolls: It’s not at all surprising that marketing researchers, particularly those working in the area of neuromarketing, are concluding that emotions are the fundamental driver of consumer attitudes, decision-making, and ultimate purchase behavior. Neuropsychologists have discovered that human emotion, at its most basic level, consists of foundational “approach and avoidance” motivational processes. Activity within these motivational processes gets translated into specific emotions and feelings associated with products and brands. This overarching emotional process determines our more enduring attitudes towards brands which then in turn shape our decision-making and behavior towards specific brands of products. Marketers who do not grasp how critical emotional processes are in determining the degree to which consumers are willing to approach their product, and the role marketing communication plays in associating emotions with brands, are setting themselves up to lose ground to competitors that truly understand how to connect with and sell to the emotional brains of consumers.
Bolls: In the PRIME Lab, which is housed within the Missouri School of Journalism, we focus on studying how different ways of producing an advertisement impacts emotional processing of the message. We primarily focus on understanding how very specific features of advertisements engage distinct emotional processes during real-time exposure to them. Basically, we study how brand messages can effectively evoke emotional processing that is likely to serve marketing objectives. We combine psychophysiological measures of emotional processing — heart rate, galvanic skin conductance, and facial EMG — with self-report measures of emotional experience, attitudes, memory, and behavioral intentions to fully understand how specific advertising executions are processed by targeted consumers.
Conner: Can you share an example or two of studies you have conducted that have led to important insights for marketers?
Bolls: Recently, my colleagues and I have done some work examining features of health messages — specifically anti-tobacco messages. In doing this, we have studied the effectiveness of negative graphic images in TV advertisements that evoke strong aversive emotional activation. This research has provided insight into how emotionally aversive content in advertising can in some contexts, when executed appropriately, be extremely effective. The presence of disgusting visual images in anti-tobacco ads when combined with message copy focused on physical health threats resulting from tobacco use was found in our experiments to evoke strong defensive responses in viewers that can potentially decrease memory for the message. However, also including efficacy related copy that is intended to increase confidence in a smoker’s ability to stop smoking was found to dampen smokers’ defensive responses to negatively graphic messages, potentially making such messages more persuasive. It seems like the traditional school of thought in designing public health campaign messages has been to either completely steer clear of emotionally aversive messages or try to scare the daylights out of the target. Our research suggests clear strategies that reflect a more intelligent approach to the execution of negatively graphic health messages that unfortunately few public health campaigns have managed to adopt.
In the realm of radio advertising I have done some work studying how listening to radio ads produced to evoke visual mental imagery is an extremely engaging, emotional, personally relevant experience. High imagery radio ads engage visual cognition and have the potential to positively boost brand attitudes as well as purchase intentions. However, this potential is most realized when emotional images evoked by the radio ad are highly connected to the advertised product. A lot of radio advertising either completely fails to evoke emotional visual imagery or stumbles in associating evoked emotions with the advertised product. What is extremely exciting to me about this line of research is that it is applicable not only to traditional radio advertising, but to any form of audio advertising potentially delivered through podcasts, Internet radio, as well as other websites.
Conner: What advice or direction would you give to marketers interested in employing some of these techniques?
Bolls: I think marketers first and foremost need to fundamentally understand both the implicit and explicit emotional associations targeted consumers make with their product’s current design, packaging, as well as brand messaging. Armed with this understanding, marketers can then move towards figuring out how to elicit foundational patterns of appetitive and aversive emotional responses in targeted consumers that will promote a strong favorable emotional relationship between consumers and the brand, purchase behavior and brand loyalty.
Conner: OK, here’s your chance! Without getting too salesy, how would you plug your work at The PRIME Lab? What might you be looking for from people who read this interview?
Bolls: As a research lab housed in a major university, the primary mission of the PRIME Lab is basic research into the design of emotionally powerful brand messages that are more likely to achieve marketing objectives. This is best accomplished through collaborations between academic researchers, like myself, professional marketers, and other marketing researchers. In the process of conducting our basic research we offer the opportunity for testing specific advertising executions. I thoroughly enjoy discussing how the emotional human mind processes brand messages and the implications of this for effective message design. So, if anything in this interview has piqued your interest, I would love to talk with you to discuss any questions as well as the possibility of conducting work in the PRIME Lab that meets specific research needs you might have.
Feel free to contact me at 573-884-0170 office, 573-673-5030 cell, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conner: Thank you very much!