Emotion, Attention and Memory in Advertising

How can brand campaigns leverage the interplay of attention, memory and emotion to influence people’s choices? We have always known that stories with the ability to stir our emotions get remembered. They also have the capacity to influence our behaviour. So emotion-based advertising can be highly effective, but to be truly effective it needs to be more than just a good story.

The author(s)

  • Gailynn Nicks Ipsos Connect, UK
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This paper outlines how advertisers can make optimal use of emotional stimuli with the aim of influencing people’s brand choices. To do that, we look at how people pay attention to, and both encode into memory and later retrieve, emotionlinked stimuli. Finally, we look at this evidence in the context of advertising to draw some conclusions about how these interact to deliver desired brand outcomes.


Why use “emotional advertising”?

“Emotional advertising” has become very fashionable, but why? Is it down to advertiser FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) or is there clear evidence, both in outcomes and underlying theory, that it works?

The idea is that “emotion” in the form of story-telling performs three key functions:

  • Emotion stimuli can capture attention with novel, surprising or engaging ideas
  • Emotional messages can be processed automatically, using lower levels of conscious attention so placing a lower cognitive load on our processing and memory encoding faculties
  • Emotional advertising creates emotional connections that make a brand easier to retrieve at a moment of choice i.e. making it highly salient


In summary

Emotion-based advertising can be highly effective but must work within a strong and consistent brand framework.

  • Brands need to have a range of distinctive iconography or assets that are consistent, engaging and understood so that they reinforce the stories and emotional stimuli in advertising.
  • Advertisers should ensure that emotion-based advertising links to the brand through association with the cues – needs, functions, situations, sounds, sights or smells – that are most relevant in the key moments.
  • Effective emotional priming means having stories that are relevant to people’s motivations and goals, so that engagement with advertising is sustained and so that people associate the brand with the things that matter most to them.


Advertising assessment needs to take account of all of these aspects. It is also worth noting that emotion is not the only route to effective advertising. Cognitive stimuli are very effective at delivering desired brand outcomes when they align with people’s needs and wants and many of the most effective campaigns demonstrate this. In the end, you still need to offer people something that matters to them.

The author(s)

  • Gailynn Nicks Ipsos Connect, UK

Media & Brand Communication