Shoppers beware: Advertisers use our emotions to sell us stuff

Posted on under Today's research

I have mentioned many times in TR that humans don’t make decisions based on fact or reasoning—something which has now been validated by a vast number of studies. Rather we make decisions on the basis of emotion and the pursuit of relational safety. These are two very powerful drivers in almost all human activity.

A new study reported in the Australian Financial Review makes this point in regard to sales driven by advertising.

What the researchers say: Advertising that generates a strong emotional response –be it positive or negative–is nearly a third more likely to result in sales versus advertising which provokes weak reactions, the researchers claim.

This was measured using short-term advertising strength, or STAS, which measures the frequency with which consumers picked out brands in an online supermarket after watching ads.

“When TV ads elicit strong reactions they will deliver more sales but they are, however, difficult to create,” said the lead researcher. “It is important to recognize that getting your ad seen still plays an important role: low emotion ads will still gain more attention when distributed on more visible platforms than highly emotional ads that can barely be seen.” I guess that’s kinda obvious.

The folks behind the study say that advertisers should ramp up the emotional tone of their messages as they head into the Christmas season.

So what? The basis of our decision-making is our need to keep ourselves and our tribe (work or family) safe. On the savannah, we needed to make decisions quickly (to avoid getting eaten for example) and since emotions—in particular, fear, guilt, envy,  disgust, love, anger and joy—are far faster than thoughts evolution selected for the ability to make quick decisions which are emotionally based. Chimpanzees, which have far more defenses (strength, speed, teeth, and the ability to climb trees) than us, they can afford to be are far more rational than we are. As researchers in many countries have found they beat us in strategy games 90% of the time. Their defenses allow them to make more reasoned decisions.

Now this evolutionary trait of ours is being used against us by politicians (DT, Brexit etc.) and by advertisers. They use powerful emotions to sway us. To combat them we need to develop equally emotional or relationship-based arguments. We cannot rely on facts or reason because the human system doesn’t take them into account when making a decision (except to justify a decision we have already made).

At the moment the market (political and economic) is using our evolutionary neurogenetics to provoke decisions favorable to themselves—to give them a happy Christmas perhaps.

By Dr Bob Murray