Leveraging Emotions and Celebrity to Increase Brand Recall

By: Sticky
on September 27, 2017

Film critic Roger Ebert once said, "Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you." In market research and advertising, the same holds true: if one can understand a person's true emotional response to a video, product, website, or other piece of content, one can more accurately predict how those emotions may translate into action.

What makes emotions so special? Well, many studies support that emotions play a vital role in our ability to store and recall memories. Emotions have served as an evolutionary survival mechanism: experiencing fear protects us from dangerous situations while positive emotions promote risk-averse behaviors beneficial to survival (Öhman and Mineka, 2001).1 Research has also shown that humans are inherently more drawn to emotive events or visuals vs. neutral events or visuals (Schupp et al, 2007).2

With this information, it’s no surprise that there has been a trend in marketing and advertising to try and create emotionally stimulating content. Whether it’s the meme inspiring 
Sarah McLachlan 
SPCA commercial that famously brings its viewers to tears, or the hysterical Super Bowl commercials that have in many ways become their own event, brands eliciting strong emotional responses are easier for viewers to recall and down the line, act on. But how can we prove this? And how can content be quickly measured for its emotional impact?

Using Sticky by Tobii Pro’s webcam eye tracking and facial coding capabilities, we found a correlation between brand recall and the peak emotional response experienced by viewers. The objective of the study was to determine how emotions and the presence of a celebrity in "back to school" commercials impact brand recall for five major brands: Target, Walmart, GAP, Old Navy (featuring Amy Schumer), Old Navy (no celebrity) and Staples. The methodology was as follows:

  • We targeted 461 participants between the age of 25-60 who were parents and the primary shoppers in their household. They were sent the study online and took the study remotely.
  • They were asked to watch one of six randomized, 30 second back to school commercials with comparable amounts of brand exposure throughout the videos (logos, dialogue).
  • Participants opted-in to have Sticky by Tobii Pro's platform access their webcams to track their eye movements and facial expressions throughout the study.
  • Participants were asked 3 follow-up survey questions after watching the videos:
      • What brand was the video for?
      • How likely are you to purchase a back to school product for your child from this brand?
      • How much did you like this commercial?

The results demonstrated the following trends:

  • There is a correlation between the emotional peak and participants' ability to recall the brand in the commercial
  • Videos with the same emotional peak resulted in comparable brand recall percentages (Walmart and Target)
  • Incorporating a well-known celebrity gave a "bump" to brand recall (Old Navy featuring Amy Schumer vs. Staples)
  • Content does not have to elicit positive feelings to have an impact on brand recall (the GAP commercial elicited "disgust" as the peak emotion)

Brand Recall Emotion Correlation Graph-1.png

Peak Emotion - point at which the highest % of participants expressed the same emotion  Brand Recall - unaided recall of the brand featured in the commercial

Laughter Makes an Impression:

Below is a GIF of the Staples back to school commercial featuring the famous Christmas song, "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year". The commercial shows a father happily dancing down the store aisles with his children shuffling behind, clearly disappointed and unenthusiastic. It's unsurprising that parents responded positively to this video, juxtaposing the excitement a parent may have to see their children return to school with their children's disappointment. The emotional impact happens early in the commercial, with the peak of 9% happening 8 seconds in. This play on the viewers' emotions led to 91% of participants being able to successfully recall the brand.

Staples Emotions GIF.gif

 Moving SEEN map and emotional response during Staples commercial

The Celebrity Effect:

Below is a GIF of the Old Navy commercial featuring celebrity comedian Amy Schumer. Not only did the commercial use comedy to reach the viewer, but Amy was seen by 89% of viewers throughout the video. This occurred frequently when she was in frame, underlining how her celebrity status was a major draw of visual attention. This very much aligns with expectations: featuring a well-known celebrity brings credibility and familiarity to a brand, increasing the potential for brand recall and purchase intent.

While the Staples commercial achieved a higher emotional peak, Amy Schumer's presence gave the Old Navy commercial a brand recall "bump" that was observable in the results (96% vs. 91%).

We were also able to observe this effect by testing two Old Navy Back to School commercials: one with a celebrity and one without. With a celebrity, the combination of a higher emotional peak at 7.5% and the celebrity presence resulted in 96% brand recall. Without a celebrity, the combination of a slightly less emotionally impactful commercial at 7% and no celebrity presence resulted in 86% brand recall.

Old Navy Emotions GIF.gif

Moving SEEN map and emotional response during Old Navy commercial with Amy SchumerAmy Schumer SEEN .pngArea of interest screenshot, showing the majority of visual attention (represented by white/blue) within the area of interest

From this study, we can conclude that the combination of a significant emotional play and the presence of a celebrity can maximize the likelihood that a brand will be remembered and ultimately purchased. We provided biometric evidence to these long-held advertising principles. While these findings might not be revolutionary, the ability for any marketer, advertiser, brand manager, or market researcher to get concrete results like this on their own content in a 24-hour period most certainly is!

Sticky by Tobii Pro's web-based webcam eye tracking and facial coding platform gives brands the ability to quickly evaluate the impact of their campaigns in near-real time and to adjust accordingly. Easy access to these biometric insights has the potential to significantly impact the world of market research.

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  1. Öhman, A. and Mineka, S. (2001). Fears, Phobias, and Preparedness: Toward and Evolved Module of Fear and Fear Learning. Psychological Review. 108(3). 483-522.
  2. Schupp, H.T., Stockburger, J., Codispoti, M., Junghöfer, M., Weike, A.I. and Hamm, A.O. (2007). Selective Visual Attention to Emotion. The Journal of Neuroscience27(5). 1082-1089.
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