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October 22, 2003
Emotions Are a Matter of Affect

Emotions are a matter of uncertainty, both figuratively and literally. We act but claim that we have done so without emotion. We chastise others for being too emotional and we celebrate the iconoclast who we believe isolates him or herself from the dregs of emotion.

When it comes to products and services marketers either ignore the issue of emotion or believe that they have an intuitive sense about the emotional response of the consumer to the product and its advertising. Even more curious are the comments that we should spend less time focusing on the brand features and benefits and more time on creating interest in the mind of the consumer through entertainment or fanfare.

The truth of the matter is that emotion is a key part of everything we do. Decision making—with or without cognitive processing, or thinking—is built around emotion. In 2002, at University of Florida, we conducted a study of 230 advertisements among 22,000 participants, to determine which was the best predictor of intended action, the knowledge gained and beliefs formed or the emotional reactions to the ads. That is, which motivated consumers to consider action, cognition or affect. We found that emotional response to the commercial was twice as predictive of behavioral intentions as knowledge or beliefs. There is no discounting the value of thinking, but believing that emotions and the response that accompany them are not a key part of message and thereby the intend behavior is simply naive.

Emotions are universal and transitory. People around the globe respond have similar emotional response to concrete stimuli, like a photo of a baby smiling or ship capsizing. That is, they use the tools of measuring emotion in similarly, although their surrounding culture may have an important filtering affect on not so concrete stimuli as a commercial or a bottle of beer. AdSAM, a visual measure of emotional response that includes SAM the Self-Assessment Manikin has been used successfully around the globe from west to east from north to south. Cultural influences certainly shade the responses to some stimuli, however changes in the reaction to those stimulus can still be compared across cultures. The differences in response can be interpreted as cultural bias or different reaction so that stimulus. More research is generally need to determine the origin of the differences, but one thing is clear, a visual measure eliminates the biases.built into a verbal measure.

So, then what are emotions and how do they influence our responses to things? The answer is quite simple although the process quite complex. Emotions are simply a reaction to the environment that is created by our senses, and guides or controls approach and avoidance. They are the governor of our decision making process that actually incorporates our own physiology to evaluate the world around us. Thinking is an important part of this process, but the emotional responses are the substantive tools of evaluation in the approach-avoidance system.

Sometimes, a product's features or benefits well out shine what ever fanfare or hoopla surrounds it in the commercial or other form of communications. The mere suggestion of an event or strong benefit may be more powerful that an elaborate message designed to enhance or demonstrate that benefit. But make no mistake. Adding simulation in a television commercial or building a fantasy around the product or service may be the only way of stimulating the desired feelings. It is a question of knowing how to mesh those stimuli with the product or service characteristics that spark the creative juices in the respondent. Understanding this is more than intuition it is the art and science of measuring or learning about consumers' emotional responses. Understanding affect, is the key to understanding the desires and disturbances of the respondents; consumer, professional, or influencer.

Buy a car, watch a movie or take a trip; talk to a physician, evaluate treatment options or administer care; participate in the political process, serve the community or demonstrate appreciation, all with the help of emotions. Understanding affect is the key to interpreting and predicting behavior. And this understanding goes far beyond intuition. In fact sometimes it is counter intuitive.

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After a successful advertising career in New York, Dr. Jon D. Morris, traveled South and is now professor of Advertising at the University of Florida where he developed AdSAM, a model for analyzing emotional response to marketing communications.

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