Emotional Resonance and Individual Bias in Advertisements: Depictions of Individuals Are Perceived as More Emotional Than Depictions of Groups


Advertisements can create strong emotional responses in their viewers. While utilizing emotionality is common advertising strategy, little work has systematically explored the factors which actually make advertisements emotional. We set out to explore this by examining how the number of people in the advertisement influence its emotional resonance. We hypothesized that, in line with previous observations from the moral judgement literature (e.g. Slovic 2007), depictions of a single individual would inspire more emotional connection than depictions of groups. To evaluate this, we created 10 original paragraph-long vignettes which promoted specific products. For example, one depicted a someone running through an airport and barely making their flight, as an advertisement for running shoes. In one condition, the vignettes depicted a group of people, while in the other, it featured only a single individual. The vignettes were identical in all other respects, instantiating ‘group size’ as the independent variable. After reading each vignette, participants judged how emotional these advertisements were (e.g. how much did the scenario change our emotional state?) and their attraction to the product (e.g. how likely would you be to purchase this product/service?). The results confirmed our hypothesis: individually-based vignettes were consistently reported as more emotional. Furthermore, individual-based vignettes were also associated with a higher demand for the featured product. Overall, these findings elucidate an important factor which make advertisements both more emotional, and more compelling. Ongoing work is exploring how this general effect interacts with other features, such as whether the product is want-based or need-based.

Author Information
Matt Johnson, Hult International Business School, United States
Laura Detter, University College London, United Kingdom
Prince Ghuman, Hult International Business School, United States

Paper Information
Conference: EuroMedia2018
Stream: Advertising, Marketing, & Public Relations

This paper is part of the EuroMedia2018 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon