Sports fans are, of course, super excited for the Super Bowl this weekend, but even those of us who don't know a tight end from a running back (my hand is in the air) have reason to tune into the big game. If you're not interested in the football, there are always the ads to look forward to.
The annual extravaganza of super expensive advertising is always closely observed by both industry insiders and less athletically inclined watch party attendees. This year is no exception. Over on HBR, Wharton's Jonah Berger used Sunday's game as the occasion to unveil his interesting new research into just which emotions cause particular spots to win the advertising side of the Super Bowl.
A high-tech approach to studying viral ads
Together with Microsoft researcher Daniel McDuff, Berger took a high-tech approach to the perpetual question of what causes something to go viral. The team used facial recognition technology to analyze the expressions of more than 2,000 participants while they watched ads via their home webcams. They then coded which ads elicited which emotions and compared that to which ads the participants said they were most likely to share.
Their first headline conclusion won't come as a shock to anyone who's been following this line of research. Contrary to what you might guess from watching the political news, in general, positive messages are more likely to be shared than negative ones. But the researchers also uncovered a more surprising twist.
While the type of emotion mattered (was is positive or negative?), the intensity of the feeling was also important.
"In addition to feeling good or bad, emotions are also be characterized by how activating--or 'physiologically arousing'--they are. Whether positive or negative, some emotions just fire us up," Berger explains. Calm is a nice emotion but it doesn't make you want to do anything, for instance. Disgust, on the other hand, is unpleasant but it makes you want to jump up and run away.
Ads that are "physiologically arousing," the ones that get you fired up in a good or bad way, are more likely to get shared, the researchers determined.
Bliss is great for meditation retreats, not ads.
So what's the lesson here? Not, as you might guess, that it's a good idea to make your customers feel disgusted by your products (though if you're running for Congress, disgust of your opponents seems to work). Instead, the authors stress that the emotions you want to target are both positive and arousing. Bliss is great for meditation retreat but doesn't work for Super Bowl ads.
"Too often, content creators think that if they can just make customers feel positively about their products, services, or brands, then people will share those products with their friends. But as our results show, 'good' isn't enough. You need to fire your customers up," Berger advises. Aim to excite, inspire, or delight--all the jump-up-and-shout type of emotions.
And in some cases, even making the audience feel bad might work, as long as it's an active kind of bad. "Ads that make people feel angry by illustrating injustice, or that make them feel anxious or grossed out by describing the health risks of a disease, may incite them to take action by sharing the information with others," Berger concludes.
Read the complete HBR post for all the details, but marketers can get at the essence of this research by asking themselves one simple question: Does this content make my audience want to actively do something? Because just chilling them out or cheering them up isn't going to get you where you want to go.