Emotion, sex, and humor can generally be attributed as three tried and tested (and arguably done to death as well) formulas of advertising communications. A quick search on any advertising portal would show almost all communications have tried to make their way to effectiveness with a mix of emotion, sex, and humor.
As this report’s scope of research has been set to be with academic theories published between 2016 and 2020, the absence of widely accepted communication theories between those years was quite obvious. However, these three theories had come across to the author as most interesting to explore and evaluate (with three recent relevant ads) …
- Emotion and advertising effectiveness: A novel facial expression analysis approach by Nicolas Hamelin, Othmane El Moujahid, and Park Thaichon. Published in Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 36 (2017) 103–111
- When Sex and Romance Conflict: The Effect of Sexual Imagery in Advertising on Preference for Romantically Linked Products and Services by Jingjing Ma and David Gal. Published in Journal of Marketing Research Vol. LIII (August 2016), 479–496
- Being funny is not enough: the influence of perceived humor and negative emotional reactions on brand attitudes. By Caleb Warren, Erin Percival Carter & A. Peter McGraw. Published in International Journal of Advertising, (June 2019) 38:7, 1025-1045
These three devices and aspects of modern advertising work hand in hand. Also, in real-world advertising strategy development practices, strategy-makers tend to incorporate multiple variables/factors to articulate a single strategic direction. For these, there is a single conclusion that has been drawn based on the overall learnings for this report.
Theory 1 (Emotion) –
Emotion and advertising effectiveness: A novel facial expression analysis approach by Nicolas Hamelin, Othmane El Moujahid, and Park Thaichon.
Published in Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 36 (2017) 103–111
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In this paper Hamelin, Moujahid and Taichon (2017) go beyond indicative (such as awareness, preference, etc.) and tangible (such as sales numbers, footfall, etc.) marketing metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of emotion with a neuroscientific tool called GfK-EMO Scan on 60 participants, and theorized ‘The high emotional advertisement generated a higher and more durable safe driving attitude score (or perceptible positive attitude) in comparison to the low emotional advertisement.’
Advertising effectiveness assessment model by Hamelin, Moujahid, and Techno
The 5-dimensional assessment model the researchers have suggested…
They also stated that emotion ‘considerably impacts’ the response or attitude of a target individual at every independent dimension of the aforementioned model.
The author finds the Advertising Effectiveness Assessment model by Hamelin, Moujahid, and Taichon (2017) would be more logical if the
- Dimensions stated in the original model were made interdependent instead of independent.
- And belief, driven by emotion can be used as a two-directional influencing factor
Then the model would look like…
Evaluating ‘Emotion’ with an ad
The 2020 ‘Superbowl’ ad by Google LLC is a modern representation of the effective use of emotions in advertising, which Hamelin, Moujahid, and Taichon (2017) articulated in their article. In this depiction of a true story, an elderly gentleman reminisces about the shared life he has spent with his late wife ‘Loretta’ with Google Assistance. Although it was mocked by some as a ‘tearjerker’ and ‘creepy’ (CNN Business) web is now inundated with positive responses (Adweek)
- AV-1. Copyright: Google LLC
In comparison, the ad below, which came out in 2009 for Google Chrome Browser is definitely smart and functional but lacks emotion. Today not many commentaries can be found about it on the web.
- AV-2. Copyright: Google LLC
Theory 2 (Sex) –
When Sex and Romance Conflict: The Effect of Sexual Imagery in Advertising on Preference for Romantically Linked Products and Services by Jingjing Ma and David Gal
Published in Journal of Marketing Research Vol. LIII (August 2016), 479–496
In this research article Ma and Gal (2016) have documented 4 experiments they conducted to test their hypotheses: ‘exposure to sex-based ads decreases preference for romantically linked products and services in men.’ The scholars have concluded by stating that- contrary to the general perception sex sells for sexual products only. Romantically linked products need romantic advertising support to appeal to the target audience.
The author finds that the theoretical model proposed by Ma and Gal (2016)
- 1. has no mention of a grey area between the binary of sex (momentary pleasure) and romance (sense of commitment). Alike other human instincts or emotions these cannot be put in rigid boxes.
Furthermore, this grey area can and does work magic for a host of brands and categories like perfume (Ralph Lauren) and tourism. Like Ralph Lauren’s ad below, where the product can be perceived as 1. An element to enhance sexual attraction and 2. A commitment gift.
- 2. secondly, ‘Romantically Linked Products’ are products with romantic associations built in the audiences’ subconscious minds through decades of strategically targeted communications.
For example, ‘A diamond is forever so are happy marriages- this romantic association is the result of a successful communication strategy by De Beers.
So, it is likely that in the future a product/service will gain or lose its attributes like ‘sexy’ or ‘romantic’ based on received promotional support. Which should change the applicability of Ma and Gal’s (2016) theory.
- 3. Juxtaposing to the ads above, this ad below by the world’s largest pornographic website, Pornhub is quite clutter-breaking by the absence of obviously expected explicit imagery. Instead, it combines humor and environmental responsibility in a clever execution.
It also goes one step ahead of Ma and Gal’s (2016) theory and proves sexual imagery isn’t essential for sexual products as well.
AV-6. Copyright: Pornhub
Evaluating ‘Sex’ with an ad
LJ Hooker’s April 2019 online ad for a listing at Padstow had gained a good amount of publicity and on the other hand, it was termed ‘raunchy’ and ‘breathtakingly horrific’ (Guardian). It showed an attractive couple dancing across the property with extraordinary sexual energy. Though the agent behind the production was elated about the response, LJ Hooker had taken it down, accepting they’d ‘missed the mark’ (Guardian).
AV-3. Copyright: LJ Hooker. The original video has been deleted by the company.
It’s worth noting that LJ Hooker’s staple TV commercials (below) always reinforce traditional family values. Probably using a non-traditional medium (online) made them target younger audiences and redefine the company’s value system.
AV-5 & 6. Copyright: LJ Hooker
Furthermore, the Tab-Coal ad of 1982 (Australia) below is a milestone. In this context, it shows how much a category’s communication environment has evolved in terms of depicting sexual attraction and body image.
AV-7. Copyright: Tab Cola
Theory 3 (Humour) –
Being funny is not enough: the influence of perceived humor and negative emotional reactions on brand attitudes
By Caleb Warren, Erin Percival Carter & A. Peter McGraw
Published in International Journal of Advertising, (June 2019) 38:7, 1025-1045
In this research article Warren, Carter, and McGraw (2019) prove that –instead of making a positive impression on the target community, humor can potentially harm the brand.
The researchers conducted a 3-study research program to find the correlations between ‘humor appreciation, negative emotional reactions and brand attitudes’ using randomly selected (by a pilot study) ads.
Broadly the researchers suggest…
They conclude with ‘funny ads do not guarantee favorable attitudes towards the advertised brand’,
The author finds that the conclusion drawn by Warren, Carter, and McGraw (2019) could be different if they considered…
- Humorous ads are not made only to entertain the audience. Advertisers consider humor to be a tool or device that is effective in catching the audience’s attention.
- Using humor is all about balance. Most advertisers always heed unbiased feedback before launching a campaign.
- If risk aversion is the objective then doing it without a suggested risk calculation tool is not practical. Because the advertising industry cannot afford to lose a tool like humor for the incalculable associated risks.
- (Although it’s mentioned in the limitations section) both humor appreciation and negative emotional reactions are demography and culture-specific.
Evaluating ‘Humour’ with an ad
Australian Lamb’s 2017 ad showed a diverse pantheon engaged in an alfresco wine-and-dine and casual banters, which immediately after its release faced criticism for being ‘insensitive’ to the Australian Hindu community (SBS Hindi). Because the Hindu deity Ganesha is vegetarian and cannot be shown eating lamb with non-vegetarians (albeit a group of gods.)
However, the makers of this ad were never appreciated for making the Prophet’s presence felt by his absence.
Here the Australian Lamb took the risk of giving a sensitive subject a humorous spin but failed to make it completely risk-proof. This scenario adds to the conclusions of Warren, Carter, and McGraw’s (2019) theory.
AV-8. Copyright: Australian Lamb Pvt Ltd.
Contrary to the ad above, KFC’s 2019 Mother’s Day ad (below) is an example of ‘humor went right. The same ad run in a moderately conservative country like India would put the brand in a detrimental position. Because it would be perceived as a threat to the cultural and moral values of the nation.
AV-9. Copyright: FKC
To conclude this essay the author reflects – emotion, sex and humor are not independent advertising/ communications tools that can be effectively used in isolation. Rather, target community/audience-specific application of empathy can help an advertiser to strike the right balance. So, the sweet spot between tearjerker and touching, raunchy and sensual, ridiculing and humorous can be identified and explored further.
- 5 AD LOT. FILIPPA HAMILTON-PALMSTIERNA RALPH LAUREN ADS https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/ad-lot-filippa-hamilton-palmstierna-110627646
- Australian Lamb, 2017 https://youtu.be/ZWvKUzyqLDA
- Caleb Warren, Erin Percival Carter & A. Peter McGraw, 2019, Being funny is not enough: the influence of perceived humor and negative emotional reactions on brand attitudes, International Journal of Advertising, 38:7, 1025-1045, DOI: 10.1080/02650487.2019.1620090
- How the slogan of the century changed the diamond industry, De Beers, https://www.debeersgroup.com/the-group/about-debeers-group/brands/a-diamond-is-forever
- Hamelin, N., Moujahid, O., & Thaichon, P., 2017, Emotion and advertising effectiveness: A novel facial expression analysis approach, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 36(C), 103-111.
- LJ Hooker, https://www.ljhooker.com.au/
- KFC Chickendale Mother’s Day Performance, https://youtu.be/nKFZJU7bvaw
- Ma, J., & Gal, D., 2016, When Sex and Romance Conflict: The Effect of Sexual Imagery in Advertising on Preference for Romantically Linked Products and Services, Journal of Marketing Research, 53(4), 479-496.
- Makers of Ganesha lamb ad apologize to complainant https://www.sbs.com.au/language/english/makers-of-ganesha-lamb-ad-apologise-to-complainant
- Oster, E., Unruly Ranks Google Tearjerker ‘Loretta’ as the Most Effective Ad of Super Bowl 2020, 3 February 2020, viewed 29 March 2020 https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/unruly-ranks-google-tearjerker-loretta-as-the-most-effective-ad-of-super-bowl-2020/
- Strictly living room: ‘breathtakingly horrific’ Sydney real estate ad goes viral, 17 April 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/apr/17/strictly-living-room-breathtakingly-horrific-padstow-real-estate-ad-goes-viral
- Tab Cola Commercial (1982) https://youtu.be/MOPmVW_HtuY
- Unruly Ranks Google Tearjerker ‘Loretta’ as the Most Effective Ad of Super Bowl 2020, 3 February 2020, https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/unruly-ranks-google-tearjerker-loretta-as-the-most-effective-ad-of-super-bowl-2020/
- Valisky. J., Google’s Super Bowl ad: People shed tears for ‘Loretta’, 3 February 2020, viewed 29 March 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/02/03/business/google-super-bowl-ad-loretta-trnd/index.html
- World’s Dirtiest Ad by Pornhub, https://www.youtube.com/embed/nskUHvjylEA?feature=oembed
- Ambrus, A., Calvano, E., & Reisinger, M. 2016. Either or Both Competition: A ‘Two-Sided’ Theory of Advertising with Overlapping Viewerships, American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, 8(3), 189-222. Retrieved March 26, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/43948893
- De la Hera, T. 2019, Digital Games and the Advertising Landscape: An Introduction, In Digital Gaming and the Advertising Landscape (pp. 15-24). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, doi:10.2307/j.ctvnp0j4g.5
- Eisen, M. 2018, Explaining the use and effects of humor in advertising: An evolutionary perspective, International Journal of Advertising, 37(4), 526-547.
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- O’Barr, W. 2011, Sex and Advertising. Advertising & Society Review, 12(2), Advertising & Society Review, 2011, Vol.12(2).
- Parker, E. 2007, Does sex sell? The effect of sexual program content on the recall of sexual and non-sexual advertisements, Applied Cognitive Psychology., 21(9), 1217-1228.
- Rapuano, K.M. 2018, Marketing to the Adolescent Brain: Neurobiological Vulnerability to Naturalistic Reward Cues Influences Health-Risk Outcomes in Youth, Dartmouth College.
- Weinberger, M., & Gulas, C. 2019, You must be joking: An introduction to the special issue on the use of humor in advertising. International Journal of Advertising: Special Issue on Humor in Advertising, Guest Editors: Marc G. Weinberger, Charles S. Gulas, 38(7), 909-910
- Windels, K. 2019, Bridging advertising practitioner theories and academic theories on how to communicate effectively with men and women, Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 22(3), 325-343.