Analysis of emotional effects

In the advertising field there is a lack of consensus on the conceptualization of emotion. Some authors believe that emotions should be conceptualized as dimensions, such as pleasure, arousal and dominance, or as emotional categories like disgust, expectancy, and so forth (Stout and Rust 1993).

Kroeber-Riel (1986) believes that emotional affects can be studied with two different kinds of analysis: differential and dimensional. The former analysis establishes the need to find fundamental emotions, that is, a categorization of emotions. Meanwhile, the latter analysis looks for properties that characterize each emotion.

Differential Analysis

In any of the disciplines that study emotion there is no agreement concerning the number or nature of the basic emotions (Richins 1997). Notwithstanding, the search for a typology, categories or dimensions of emotions offers to answer the question how can we describe and measure what a person feels?

Descartes, the dualistic philosopher, suggested that there are six primitive emotions:

 Admiration  Love  Hate
 Desire  Joy  Sadness

These emotions combine to create different aspects of emotional states (Strongman 1978).

Jumping to this century, Watson postulated that there are three types of fundamental emotional reaction: fear, rage and love. An expanded and more specific set was presented by Plutchik (1980), who enhanced the importance of the role of emotion as a survival mechanism, identifying eight primary emotions (See Plutchik's solid):

 Fear  Anger  Joy  Sadness
 Acceptance  Disgust  Expectancy  Surprise

A researcher that emphasizes the survival relevance of emotions is Izard (1977), who recognized through facial muscle responses ten fundamental emotions:

 Interest  Enjoyment  Surprise
 Distress  Anger  Disgust
 Contempt  Fear  Shame/shyness

These and other categorizations were the beginning point for researchers in the advertising field like Holbrook and Batra (1987), Richins (1997) and Edell and Burke (1987). These studies have shown a tendency to reduce the number of basic emotions. Holbrook and Batra (1990) estimate 12 types of affective responses to advertising. Eddel and Burke (1987) found that the feelings evoked by ads can be summarized by three factors: upbeat feelings, negative feelings, and warm feelings. The reductionist approach is epitomized by Homer and Yoon (1992), by constructing emotions as positive or negative. Yet, no matter if the researchers use two or forty categories to contain the emotional content of watching an ad, the relevant fact is to assess if the categories used are adequate for the research objectives and reflect the reality of the data.


Dimensional Analysis

In the search for appropriate characteristics to each emotion, the following dimensions were found: intensity, direction (or valence), quality of emotion, and consciousness. Intensity pertains to the perceived strength of the emotion; the direction of an emotion implies its valence (positive or negative); the quality of the emotions points to the degree in which manifested verbal and visual associations are found; finally, consciousness specifies if a person is aware or not of having an emotion (Kroeber-Riel 1986).

The first dimension is the most researched perhaps because more persuasive ads use dramatic emotional appeals, in other words high intensity commercials (Moore and Harris 1996). Bagozzi and Moore (1994) on their study of intense negative public service ads, found that more emotionally strong commercials are more able to stimulate a desire to help and contribute to support the goals of the nonprofit organization displayed in the ad. This is an important fact given that most NGOs have limited advertising budgets. High-impact ads that produce powerful emotions could require fewer exposures.

Another reason to use negative high impact emotional ads is proposed by Moore and Harris (1996). They suggest that this kind of ad causes a neutral response, meaning that the audience is indifferent in its attitudes toward high impact ads and may "even enjoy some degree of thrill exposed to such appeals" (Moore and Harris 1996 p. 45).

However, the intensity dimension is also studied on the side of the receptor. Larsen and Diener (1987) determined that some people experience their emotions with greater vividness when exposed to emotional stimuli. Using these results, Moore, Harris and Chen (1995) found that high affect intensity (AI) individuals did report higher levels of affective reactivity than did their low counterparts, regardless of whether the emotions were positive or negative.

In an extension of this study, Moore and Harris (1996) found that when ads are emotional, no matter if they are positive or negative, high AI persons had stronger emotional reactions than their low AI counterparts. This difference was not present in the case of non emotional ads. Also, they found that high AI individuals had stronger attitudes toward the ad when exposed to a positive emotional ad, and not in response to a negative emotional ad.

These findings imply that one of the reasons of the perceived complexity of the effect of emotional ads resides in the characteristics of the individuals exposed to the ads. Also, they hint at the fact that even sensible persons (high AI individuals) tolerate and even enjoy high impact commercials, whether the appeal is positive or negative.


Home | Definition of emotion | In search of emotion: A brief historical review | Emotion in advertising | Measurement of emotion | Advertising processing | Analysis of emotional effects | Emotional Appeals | Acknowledgement and references