Love the Ad. Buy the Product

The most memorable advertisings are based on emotion. The best predictor variable for advertising effectiveness - sales - is curiously likeability. That means if you love the Ad, you will buy the product. This is the major finding of the "Copy Research Validation Project" of the US Advertising Research Foundation, which wanted to find out which copy-testing research question was the most predictive of a commercial's actual selling ability.

Advertisers were asked to identify pairs of advertisements that had been used for the same brand, where one had been a big success and the other had been a failure. Eventually eight pairs of advertisements were identified. Haley’s team also gathered all the research that had been done on them. It then devised a questionnaire which asked respondents to rate advertisements on every possible measure that can be taken of a commercial. At the last moment someone suggested that maybe they should also simply ask if they like the commercial. The conclusions showed that advertising liking was the most predictive factor for sales. This was an unexpected result, since whether people liked an ad did not feature in any of the recognized ways of researching effectiveness.

Reasons explaining ‘Likeability’

It is claimed that likeable advertisements are better at interrupting the scanning phase of consumers — also referred to as the stopping power of advertisements — improving processing, and producing more positive judgments of the message and, hopefully, the brand.

Several reasons have been suggested to account for the effects of likeability (e.g., Biel, [15]; Du Plessis [5]; Haley and Baldinger [13]). First, the consumer may be willing to pay attention to a commercial that is well liked and may be willing to watch it again [15]. If the first impression of a commercial is favorable, consumers are likely to continue and to process it more fully. In this sense, likeability can function as a "gatekeeper" for further processing.

A second reason for the effectiveness of likeability is that the advertising itself may be considered as a brand attribute [17]. This is especially true for product categories where the functional characteristics of different brands are perceived as very similar. Therefore, liking the advertisement will be closely related to buying the brand: "love the advertisement, buy the product."

Others have explained the power of likeability in terms of the cognitive processing of advertising messages [17]. A well-liked advertisement is thought to affect information processing by creating positive arousal and activation, improving the recall of the advertised material, and producing positive judgments of the message. Favorable feelings influence memory at the time of stimulus encoding, influencing how the information is organized in memory and highlighting specific features that will later be retrievable. Thus, positive affect may be used by viewers in encoding, storing, and then in retrieving [19].

Finally, others have suggested that showing simple, positive emotions induces similar emotions in the viewer [20, 5, 6]. This induced emotion, when positive, triggers a positive attitude toward the advertisement. What is more, the likeability of the advertisement is transferred to the likeability of the brand, which in turn results in a higher purchase intention.

Factor analytical studies from 1970 to date have identified the following main dimensions of likeability [e.g.: 15, 13, 20, 5]:

  • Entertaining (or clever, ingenuity, humorous): Entertainment can be achieved by humor, but it can also be achieved by sheer enthusiasm in the presentation or other ways. This is the most affective of all likeability measures.
  • Relevant (or clear, informative, believable, meaningful): People like advertisement which provide them with relevant information. This dimension can be thought of as a persuasion measure and is the most cognitive.
  • Empathetic (or warm, sensual): People like to see situations which they can identify with or to aspire to. Empathy reflects the involvement or the interaction of the viewer with the commercial.
  • Irritating (or alienating, tasteless, confusing): Whereas unclear or confusing advertisements are just ignored by the audience, an alienating one achieves the opposite, hating the ad and the brand.
  • Familiar (or: boring, worn out): Basically this is a measure of how boring an ad is. It could also mean that the ad has been seen too many times.

Likeability as moderator on attentioning

Du Plessis [5] stresses that viewers decide during the first three seconds of exposure if the ad is likeable and worthy of their attention. During those three seconds the viewer evaluates the ad on those five criteria, namely ‘entertainment value’, relevance, stimulation, empathy, clearness and novelty. This decision will leave a ‘somatic’ decision marker [1, 2] behind, which will act as gatekeeper enabling/preventing further processing when we see the ad again. Getting past this gatekeeper is very important for advertising as a durable memory trace is only laid down after the third full processing of the ad.

The learning part (i.e. the first three exposures to an Ad) has to be done by giving full attention during a one week period. This applies to any kind of information, is dependant on the amount of information and is commonly called the Ebbinghaus’ learning/forgetting curve. In other words the frequency of exposure should be relatively high at the start, but then reduce exponentially. Emotions reinforce learning in two ways: First they strengthen the memory trace effectively doubling recall and recognition [5]. Second emotion has the biggest influence on getting and keeping attention than any other bought dimension, like size, length, color, etc. [5]. In the case of a print or outdoor ad it takes only three seconds for a durable memory trace to be formed, therefore making it highly likely that a memory trace for the visual is formed even if the copy text hasn’t been processed.

Attention is a result of emotion, not its cause [5]. Some advertisers mistakenly believe that shouting or shocking in the first seconds will get their attention. As this is a negative emotion, it will lay down a strong ‘somatic’ marker against future processing [5]. On the Internet advertisers had to learn this lesson the hard way when consumers decided to ‘mark’ the location of banner ads for non-processing, effectively destroying this ad-form and paving the road for Google’s success [4].

[1] Damasio, A. R. (1994) Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Putnam’s Son.

[2] Damasio, A. R., The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1999.

[4] Benway, J. P. (1999) Banner blindness: What searching users notice and do not notice on the WWW, Rice Univ.

[5] Du Plessis, E. C. (2001) The Advertised Mind, London and Philadelphia: Kogan Page. 2001.

[6] Gordon, W. (2006) “ What Do Consumers Do Emotionally with Advertising?” Journal of Advert. Res. 46(1), 2-10.

[8] Jones, J. P. (1997) “Is Advertising still Salesmanship”, Journal of Advertising Research 37 (2), 9-15.

[13] Haley, R. E. & Baldinger, A. L. (1992) "The ARF Copy Research Validity Project." Journal of Advertising Research 31 (2), 11-32.

[15] Biel, A. L. (1990) "Love the Ad. Buy the Product? Why Liking the Advertising and Preferring the Brand Aren't Such Strange Bedfellows After All", Admap .

[17] Aaker, D. A. & Myers, J. G. (1987) Advertising Management 3rd Ed., Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[19] Youn, S., Sun, T., Wells, W. D. & Zhao, X. (2001) "Commercial Liking & Memory: Moderating Effects of Product Categories," Journal of Advertising Research 41 (3), 7-14.

[20] DeCock, B. & DePelsmacker, P. (2000) "Emotions Matter", In Proceedings of the 2000 ESOMAR Conference, Rio de Janeiro, 154-179.

Last modified: Friday, 17 August 2007, 12:16 AM