Emotion and Engagement, Brand Equity, and Persuasion

Reach and Response: A Proven Model Most advertisers and researchers agree that effective advertising means advertising that produces a measurable, short-term response in sales or brand equity or both. That result depends on two key factors, called reach and response. We don't just mean reach in terms of media exposure; we mean that the ad has to win viewers' selective attention and leave a brand-associated impression. Response means that the ad has to trigger a change in behavior or attitudes favorable to the brand--whether that response is conscious and rational, or emotional.

Years of validation studies have consistently shown that ads that perform better on these key reach and response dimensions produce better results for the brand in-market. The example below is from one validation study covering 31 ads for seven brands from five different advertisers. Sales volume has been quantified for each ad through marketing mix models, and compared with pretest reach and response measures in a weighted combination called the Ipsos ASI Copy Effect Index.

The correlation of sales impact with the Copy Effect Index demonstrates not only the validity of these combined pretest measures, but also the validity of the reach and response construct that they represent. If an ad wins viewers' attention, it won't have much impact on sales if it's not persuasive. If it is persuasive, it has a bigger effect on sales if it does a better job of engaging consumers' attention each time they're exposed to the message. Our reach measure alone would explain about half of the variance in sales response, and our persuasion (response) measure explains about half, but together they explain about three quarters of the variance in sales (a correlation of r = .88).

Beyond Reach and Response Researchers have recently introduced some important ideas that challenge the basic reach and response model, or go beyond it: concepts such as engagement, low attention processing, the role of consumer emotions, and brand equity. In the discussion that follows, we explore each of these concepts to show how they fit with the proven reach and response model.

Engagement A joint task force of the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and the Advertising Research Foundation recently proposed the concept of engagement as a better way to understand and measure consumers' involvement with advertising communications and brands. Their report identifies three levels of engagement:

  1. Engagement with the medium: Are consumers actively involved, or merely present?
  2. Engagement with the creative execution: Does it interest and involve the viewer to leave a branded impression?
  3. Engagement with the brand: Creating identity, meaning, affinity, and value.1

As advertising researchers, our primary concern is engagement with the creative ad execution and with the brand. In broad terms, engagement with the ad is essentially the same concept as reach and response: not just media exposure or whether consumers saw the ad, but whether they were interested, involved, or engaged enough for it to make some impression, and whether they associate that impression with the brand, and ultimately, whether it has a favorable impact on consumer attitudes and behavior.

Low Attention Processing? The theory of low attention processing (LAP) holds that consumers can be influenced by an ad even when they are not consciously aware of seeing it. Some researchers have argued that this makes traditional measures of reach and response obsolete. Our research from pretesting and ad tracking does show some evidence for LAP: sometimes there is a positive effect on attitudes toward the brand among consumers who do not remember seeing the ad. However, our data also show that consumers who do notice and remember the ad are much more likely to be persuaded to choose the advertised brand.2 In other words, ads that win consumers' active attention and leave a conscious, branded impression are also more likely to have a positive impact for the brand. So why settle for low attention?

The Role of Consumer Emotions One popular theory is that low attention processing is more important for ads that are designed to work at an emotional level, with less reliance on information content or rational arguments that would depend on or contribute to higher-level cognitive processing. We looked for this in our data too.

Our analysis showed low attention processing effects for the ads that rated highest on emotion or imagery attributes (for example, "fits the way you feel about the brand," "stirred your emotions," or "for people like you"), but hardly more than for ads that rely on more informational messages (with high ratings for things like "informative" or "told you something new about the brand"). And in all cases, the low attention effect is much smaller than persuasion among viewers whose response demonstrates more active engagement and higher-level processing.

These results do not mean that we should discount the importance of emotions for effective advertising. On the contrary, we should recognize that simple ratings for something like "stirred your emotions" might not be sensitive to an underlying emotional response. For that matter, when viewers say an ad is "relevant" or "told them something important," that perception could be based on emotion as much as any rational, evaluative process.

Measuring Emotional Response To measure consumer emotions with less verbal filtering, Ipsos ASI created a unique research tool. Through experimental studies covering thousands of interviews, we developed a set of 40 descriptions covering a wide range of emotional conditions. Psychological research shows that people identify emotions as much on the basis of visual cues as verbal descriptions, so we worked with graphic artists to create a set of visual icons representing each emotional state.

Finally, we used the statistical relationships to array these icons on a map that we call the Emoti*Scape, allowing our research respondents to "point and click" to indicate the emotions they experience in response to an ad, or associate with a brand. With this Emoti*Scape, consumers can describe their emotional response to individual ads, and we can measure the effect of the ad on emotional associations with the brand.

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Reach, Response, and Emotion So how are ad reach and response to the brand related to emotional response? More favorable emotional response (higher positives or lower negatives) corresponds with higher scores on reach potential or engagement with the ad and with higher levels of purchase intent or engagement with the brand. This is partly a function of brand attitudes: that is, viewers express more positive emotions toward ads that represent bigger or more popular brands. However, when we look at persuasion--the change in purchase intent relative to pre-exposure levels--we can see ads that evoke a more positive emotional response are producing a more positive change or impact on attitudes toward brand purchase.

Emotions and Brand Equity Ipsos ASI measures brand equity perceptions with our Equity*Builder model, which has been validated to consumer attitudes and business results for the brand in-market. Our Brand Equity Index summarizes five key ratings:

  • Is appropriate and fits your lifestyle and needs
  • You are familiar with and understand what this brand is about
  • Has unique or distinctive features, or a distinct image other brands in this category do not have
  • Is a popular brand
  • Has consistently high quality

Of course, equity studies for individual brands typically focus on attributes that are more specific to the brand or category, but these five are especially useful because they can be generalized across brands and categories. By including them in our pretest, we can look at how advertising contributes to or reinforces these brand equity perceptions. One of the things we already know from Next*TV is that, on average, ads that get higher equity ratings also tend to produce a bigger persuasive impact. Reinforcing these equity perceptions and generating immediate sales response are at least complementary outcomes, though not exactly the same thing.

Our latest findings on equity are related to the emotion measures. Comparing equity ratings to consumer response on the Emoti*Scape, we find that when the ad generates a more positive emotional response, it gets higher ratings on the equity dimension, while a negative emotional response is associated with lower equity ratings. This demonstrates that emotional activation is associated with consumer engagement with the brand, as well as with the advertising.

Building Brand Desire None of these theories or new learning undermines or invalidates the fundamental principles of our validated reach and response model, but it does make that simple model part of a bigger picture. The concepts of engagement, low attention processing, and emotional response provide new ways to understand how advertising reaches and engages viewers to deliver a branded impression. Further, these theories help us understand how those messages--rational or not, and conscious or not--contribute to behavioral response in the short term, and build engagement or equity for the brand in the long term.

In light of these new concepts, our view is evolving to think of the entire process in more holistic terms. In this emerging view, we understand that consumer engagement with the brand--what we might call brand desire--reflects a complex, continually shifting interaction of emotions, motivations, and beliefs which may be rational, or not. Every experience with the brand (including advertising or other marketing activities) is filtered through these existing emotions, motivations, and beliefs--and acts on them, if it's effective, to create or reinforce desire for the brand. Ultimately, these same filters will moderate the relationships between brand desire and behavior, which, of course, is the end goal of the marketer.

These new theories and measures help us understand how consumers interact with marketing messages and brand experience, and how to make ads that are more effective. At the same time, we continue to focus on key evaluative measures of reach and response, developing new and improved ones to extend or augment the market-validated measures we have already. They're the best indicators of the result: whether consumers got the message, associated it with the brand, and whether that message has an impact on the brand's health and business results.

1. Plummer, Joe. "re:Think! Engagement," ARF 52nd Annual Convention, March 2006, New York. 2. Mundell, James, John Hallward, and Dave Walker. "High Attention Processing--The Real Power of Advertising," Admap, July 2006.

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