Sadness. Happiness. Joy. According to a new analysis by Kantar, a data and analytics company, digital ads that evoke motion — any emotion — were found to generate four times more impact than those ads without an emotional element.

Using AI facial coding tools from Affectiva, Kantar’s data research team measured consumers’ emotional responses to digital ads. They found that online ads that elicit strong emotions are 4x more likely to generate impact than those with weaker emotional connections. Those same ads are also 2.6x more likely to go viral and 4x more successful in driving long-term brand equity.

While all kinds of emotions led to a higher likelihood of long-term brand equity, the analysis found that ads that leave viewers with overall positive feelings, like pride, contentment, and attraction, are the best performers overall. Lower-performing ads tended to be associated with more negative feelings, like annoyance and disappointment.

“Digital advertising is a cornerstone for the marketing mix – our research shows that marketers plan to invest more in digital channels over the coming year,” explained Kantar’s Ecem Erdem. “As digital advertising matures, it’s time that advertisers treat it as an important brand-building channel as well as a transactional one – and leverage emotions and human stories to deliver the most impact.”

Linking Emotion to Online Advertising Metrics

Although Kantar’s primary goal in the analysis was to uncover the impact of digital ads that use emotion to elicit a response or a desired action, researchers had a secondary motivation, as well. Using AI facial coding technology from Affectiva gave Kantar’s researchers a way to measure actual emotional responses, which they could then link to commonly used online advertising metrics, like clickthrough rates and completion rates.

Researchers found that many of the metrics used industry-wide to measure the effectiveness of online campaigns have little correlation to a campaign’s success or brand impact, and that facial expressiveness — which can be measured using AI software — is a far better indicator of how viewers engage with online content.

“Advertisers are increasingly focusing on measuring the attention audiences give to digital ads. However, attention is necessary but insufficient for advertising effectiveness,” explained Affectiva’s Graham Page, in a blog post detailing the company’s research. “Campaigns that are truly effective go beyond this to actively engage viewers emotionally.”

Humour in Advertising

One of the more surprising findings in Kantar’s analysis had to do with the role that humor plays in online advertising today. Researchers found that humor is underutilized in digital advertising. In fact, humour was the main way researchers found to prevent viewers from skipping online ads.

According to a 2022 report from Oracle and author Gretchin Rubin, 90% of people are more likely to remember ads they consider funny, and 72% of people would choose a humorous brand over the competition. Despite that, just 18% of brands report using humour in online ads and 95% of business leaders say they fear using humor in consumer interactions.

“Understanding the potential for campaigns to connect with viewers on a deeper level before they air is crucial to maximizing return on investment,” explains Page. “Emotion AI tools have become an essential part of the campaign development process and enable advertisers to build that necessary emotional connection with their audiences.”

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