Emotion analytics: A powerful tool to augment gut instinct

Tom Kelshaw / August 2017

How can we distinguish advertising that excels from the merely mediocre, or even downright ineffective? Looking over recent marketing history, Cadbury’s Gorilla, Domino’s Pizza Sorry, Chipotle’s Back to the start, Canal+ Bear and Tata Tea’s Power of 49 stand out as definitive moments in our industry. Memorable and distinctive, their creative idiosyncrasies bore into our collective consciousness. And yet I’ve read that some of these campaigns are said to have failed in pre-testing. If even these landmark creatives can be initially rejected, then perhaps it’s time we reconsidered exactly what constitutes a desirable reaction in pre-testing creative?

Assessing the impact of advertising to ensure it performs at its optimum is critical. Our fundamental purpose, whether sitting client-side, in creative departments or in media agencies, is to create meaningful messaging that reaches the right people, at the right time. Messaging must deliver the desired effect whilst remaining on-budget. But while our capacity to measure people’s emotions in their natural environment is advancing, this raises interesting questions around balancing creative testing with marketing instinct. 

For an industry increasingly focused on tailoring to individuals rather than demographics, being able to see and evaluate the emotional effect of campaigns on the individual is clearly important. As curiosity grows around the inherent value of clicks and views, determining which parts of a campaign resonate is not only appealing - it’s crucial. 

Emotion Analytics (EA) is a fast evolving sphere, with RealEyes, Affectiva, Sensum, Clarifai and IBM Watson among its key players. New types of data and new tracking methods are enabling us to understand the impact of campaigns – and their individual assets – on an emotional level, and in much greater depth than ever before.

But there is an important caveat: even as Emotion Analytics continues to advance and develop, there is no measurement tool more artfully refined or shrewdly developed than our own gut.

Seeing the unseen…measuring the unconscious

In 2011, Nobel-prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman crystallised years of research into the book Thinking Fast and Slow. To condense his body of work still further, Kahneman describes two modes of thought: System 1 (fast, visceral, and driven by emotion) and System 2 (slow considered, rational and effortful).

Traditional market research has long used techniques such as surveys to understand System 2 responses. However, System 1 responses prove elusive and hard to extract and assess, particularly as people are often unable to articulate their emotions, or may not even wish to share them.

Language analysis does offer some promise in understanding sentiment and improving marketing precision. Here, IBM Watson is arguably leading on analysing semantic and emotional content from social media to create receptive targeting groups. Coupled with innovations in recording sensors and machine learning software, advertisers and agencies are now beginning to be able to understand the unseen emotional information that plays such a strong role (up to 90%) in brand affinity and purchasing decisions (A. Damasio, 2005 & Nielsen Neurofocus, 2016). Emotion Analytics in its various guises ultimately has the potential to predict who will engage emotionally, and then target them accordingly.

From the emotional to the practical

Emotion Analytics technology promises to deliver fascinating new types of data, which we will need to learn to use and refine over time. As with all of the data-informed marketing developments that have preceded it, the true test of emotion tracking and emotion marketing will be in how insights are drawn and acted upon.

Anyone embracing these developments in Emotion Analytics, or demanding their practical application from digital and media agencies, should already be seeing more nuanced and refined signals of success in their campaigns. When balanced with our own sophisticated insights and experience, Emotion Analytics guides us towards more confident, precise and effective marketing practice.

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