Targeting ads by moods


Negative moods alter the way we absorb information, making us engage in a more rational way with messaging.

At any particular moment in time, we are in a certain mental state that will affect how we absorb, remember and act upon the advertising we see, and although our mood is personal and often based upon specific individual circumstances at any given moment (why hasn’t she texted me yet, why only one kiss? what do you mean clingy?) it can be generally guessed at based upon the place and content that an ad fits in to – think of the stress in a crowded tube carriage in the morning or the excitement in a cinema lounge before an Aaron Sorkin movie.  Various recent research papers have started to shed light on how consumers’ moods affect their response to different types of advertising content.

A recent study, “The Effects of Positive Mood on Memory”, suggests that a positive mood enhances the learning of brand names by “prompting the classification of brands on the basis of their category membership, which then serves as an effective cue for brand name retrieval”. Another study, “Consumers’ mood states: Antecedents and consequences of experiential versus informational strategies for brand choice”, goes further suggesting that negative and positive moods directly affect how an ad is incorporated into our memory, suiting different types of ad content. A positive mood (and according to recent news reports, magic mushrooms) encourages us to absorb information in an experiential way, associating content with feelings and mood, while a negative mood encourages us to process ads in an informational way, weighing up a more rational input-output relationship to the proposition.

On the opposite end of the emotion spectrum, a research paper called “Fear and Loving in Las Vegas: Evolution, Emotion, and Persuasion” suggests that targeting content that induces fear (scary movies or, personally, movies with Cher) will help products that are trying to make social claims, but harm those that encourage an individual to stand out, when the content has unconsciously encouraged them to seek the safety of the group. Conversely, targeting romantic desire works best for products that suggest they help you stand out as, when aroused, people unconsciously want to be noticed as different and better in order to attract a mate.


When people are stressed out, they are more likely to give in to temptation.

One area that has been researched more thoroughly is the effect of stress on reducing cognitive resources. Stress reduces the part of the brain that normally controls emotional urges. This means when stressed or mentally occupied we are more likely to give into temptation (and possibly take on board emotional messaging), as we can’t control our emotional impulses. This suggests for example that although positive analysis suggests chocolate advertising would suit positive moods, when our minds are absorbing content in an experiential manner, it may also be beneficial to target stressed consumers when there is an opportunity for purchase, such as on trains and in shopping centres.

In addition to our moods, there are other factors that can affect our memory and level of persuasion. These range from the time of day affecting ad recall, with adverts shown in the morning scoring higher on memory encoding, recall, comprehension, attention, and liking due to people having higher cortisol levels upon waking, to the strong relationship between caffeine consumption and persuasion, with those who have higher caffeine blood levels, appearing more open to persuasion than those who don’t.

As yet there is limited data on the numerical benefit of ad content targeted by mood, compared to factors such as cost, reach and frequency, on which we have plenty of data. However, it appears to be an area of growing importance, with the development of outdoor ‘gladvertising’ (digital outdoor adverts that react to consumers’ moods by using emotion recognition software) and the emerging opportunities to use social media to target people by mood.

1 thought on “Targeting ads by moods

  1. Pingback: Practical applications of mood-based advertising | The Source

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