When to use emotional vs informational ads

Use emotional product ads for high price and quality products, and informational ads for low price and quality products. Emotional ads work best to boost online searches.

This study analyzed 2,317 car TV ads ($11.3B spent) to find out which type of creative works best to drive sales.

Turns out that it depends on what type of product you’re selling.

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Tip type: New research (November 2020)

Use emotional ads for high price-quality products, informational ads for low price-quality products

Impacted metrics: Customer acquisition | Ad performance
Channels: Video ads | Ads

Recommendation

If you’re selling an expensive, high quality product, emotional ads are most effective to increase your sales (e.g. intrigue viewers with the elegant design of your product, or show a family enjoying a beautiful moment with your product).

If you’re selling an inexpensive, low quality product use informational ads to increase your sales (e.g. explain features it comes with, the price and possible financing options).

Note: this research is based on auto industry TV ads, which leads to important limitations. See ‘Limitations’ section.

Effects

  • The more emotional an ad is, the more sales it generates for high price, high quality products.

  • The more informational an ad is, the more sales it generates for low price, low quality products.

  • The more emotional an ad, the more online search it generates. Informational content in ads does not drive online searches.

  • More online searches drive more sales for a low price product (e.g. 10% more searches lead to 3.6% more sales for a $15,000 car), but not for a high price product (e.g. a $60,000 car). So it would still be useful to use emotional ads for low price products if your objective is to drive awareness and word of mouth (people may talk about it even if they don’t buy it) rather than direct sales.

Why it works

  • Previous studies tend to agree that emotional ads usually work better than informational ones. That’s because they generate feelings towards the product that increase the value we give to it.

  • However, informational ads seem to work better for lower price and quality products because they lower uncertainty about the product and reassure us of what we would be buying (e.g. A/C is included in the car’s price). This tends to be implicit in higher price and quality products (e.g. we expect it to have A/C).

  • Online search is beneficial because people who actively learn about a product eventually purchase more frequently and become more profitable. They may also tell others about it.

Limitations

  • The study was based on TV ads of 144 car models. This leads to the following risks in generalizing it (i.e. be extra careful when applying it). In order of importance:

    • The automotive brands analyzed are established and well known (e.g. BMW, Toyota). A new, unknown brand may see very different effects.

    • Cars are high involvement, expensive purchases. So it’s unclear whether these effects apply to products that are the opposite (e.g. a shampoo) or in between (e.g. a smartphone, a B2B SaaS solution).

    • Can this be extended to other types of ads? Very likely for online video ads. Still likely, but riskier, for image and text-based ads.

  • The online search data for many high price, high quality products is skewed (e.g. Tesla Model S, Balenciaga sneakers) because there are many fans who research them online for fun but have no intention to buy.

Companies using this

  • There has been a gradual shift towards using more emotional ads as research has proven they are generally more effective.

  • Examples of emotional car ads: BWM Series 7 (intrigue), Volvo XC60 (family), Fiat 500 (climate change).

  • Examples of informational car ads: Opel Zafira (size), Kia Sportage (remote features).

  • Bonus: here’s a very informational used car ad that worked very well (“It will get you from A to B, just don’t try to make it to C”).

Steps to implement

  • If you’re running a product-focused ad campaign, carefully choose your creative content depending on the type of product. Emotional if it’s high price and quality, informational if it’s low price and quality.

  • Ads can be both emotional and informational, but creatively it’s difficult to do both well at the same time, so it’s better to choose and focus on one.

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Study type

Market observation (of 2,317 automotive TV ads from Jan ‘07 to Sep ‘10, for a total of $11.3 billion spent), United States

Source

Guitart, I. A., & Stremersch, S. (November 2020). The Impact of Informational and Emotional Television Ad Content on Online Search and Sales. Journal of Marketing Research.

[Link to paper]

Affiliations

Emlyon Business School and Erasmus University, France and The Netherlands

Remember: Because of the groundbreaking nature of this paper, it could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.


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