The idea that ads that engage us emotionally work better than those that don’t might provoke a, “Well, duhhh!” reaction from Neuromarketing readers. Surprisingly, though, I still encounter business executives who don’t believe they are swayed by emotional factors when buying things, and often doubt that others are either. So, for those uber-rational decision-makers, here’s the hard data…

Earlier this month, I based a few discussions on the book Brand Immortality by Pringle and Field. The last finding from that book that I’ll share with you is an analysis of data from the IPA (the UK-based Institute of Practitioners in Advertising). The IPA dataBANK contains 1400 case studies of successful advertising campaigns submitted for the IPA Effectiveness Award competition over the last three decades. This particular analysis of the IPA data compared the profitability boost of campaigns which relied primarity on emotional appeal vs. those which used rational persuasion and information. The chart above shows the results. Campaigns with purely emotional content performed about twice as well (31% vs. 16%) with only rational content, and those that were purely emotional did a little better (31% vs 26%) those that mixed emotional and rational content.

Pringle and Field attribute this split to our brain’s ability to process emotional input without cognitive processing (or even awareness – see Low Attention Branding), as well as our brain’s more powerful recording of emotional stimuli.

The authors note that while an emotional marketing campaign may be more effective, creating ads that engage consumer emotions isn’t easy. By comparision, basing a campaign on a “killer fact” (if a brand has such an advantage) is comparatively simple. Indeed, brands have damaged themselves when an emotional campaign failed to align with reality. Pringle and Field suggest that committing to an emotional branding approach be “hard-wired into the fabric of the brand,” which requires a major commitment as well as good understanding of consumer motivation. They cite Nike’s pervasive theme of “success in sport” as an example of a brand that focuses on a key emotional driver and builds advertising, sponsorships, etc. around it.

Smaller brands may not be able to follow the same emotional branding approach as the market leaders, Pringle and Field note, but may be able to segment the market to find a group of consumers that will respond to a different appeal. Ben & Jerry’s and Jones Soda, for example, aren’t the biggest players in their markets but have achieved success by appealing to smaller segments of consumers.

Smaller entities face several addtional challenges. Their name recognition is likely much lower, and an emotion-based campaign may befuddle consumers who don’t even associate the brand and product category. Budweiser can run amusing and engaging commercials about Clydesdales and Dalmations because 100% of the audience knows their products. A small business might well have to take the “combined” rational and emotional approach even if it is slightly less effective, or at least ensure that their emotion-based ads clearly identify the product.

Emotion-based ads may be more difficult to create, but the stats say it’s worth the effort.