Opinion

The future of emotion

The sometimes stark world of digital intelligence has led people to pull back and rediscover the joy of getting emotional, with brands now targeting 'emotional data', writes Tracey Follows.

According to Newton’s Third Law, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Nowhere is this more in evidence right now than in the return to emotion. Seemingly worried that we might be about to become trapped in a vortex of algorithmic intelligence, people have reacted by remembering, and embracing the opposite; redressing the balance and refocusing on emotion.

From connectivity to connectedness

Many years ago, there was a data-visualisation website called We Feel Fine (wefeelfine.org), which captured and catalogued the world’s emotions by demographic. It enabled all of us to experience how the rest of the world was feeling at any given moment. For many years, We Feel Fine was still being talked about and showcased as the example of how we could experience others’ emotions at scale, as it was the only tangible example of this.

Advertising that reads consumers’ emotional states is not too far off

All of a sudden, though, there are signals appearing in unexpected places, that suggest that not only are we keen to apply a layer of ‘intelligence’ to our world via the internet of things, but, if we’re truly smart, we want a layer of emotion, too. In fact, one could say that ‘detecting and displaying emotion’ is another layer of data – of intelligence – that can be accessed and used by services to optimise and personalise relationships with customers. As a result, we’re on the cusp of moving from an era of connectivity, to connectedness: a shift from data with functionality to data with sensitivity.

One of the highly commended entries in Marketing’s New Thinking Awards last year was an ingenious idea that replaced PINs for mobile banking access with emoticons. At first glance, the idea, from Intelligent Environments, seemed faddish. In reality, however, not only do four chosen emoticons provide better security than four chosen numbers (the latter being a more limited set providing fewer possible combinations), but emoticons are far more memorable for the user.

Last summer, Jaguar, working with Mindshare, attempted to capture and understand the feelings of spectators at the Wimbledon tennis championships. #Feelwimbledon used in-ground atmospheric sensors and global sentiment-tracking on Facebook and Twitter and biometric cuffs worn by spectators to measure the atmosphere, and then shared the data-visualisation results via social media. As such, advertising that reads consumers’ emotional states is not too far off, and rumour has it that there have already been experiments where outdoor posters have successfully read consumers’ desires.

In touch with our emotions

The future may involve using layers of ‘emotional data’ to help us make better decisions more in tune with our mood or emotional make-up. Imagine a dating app that matches you at an emotional level, rather than a cosmetic one. We may find a way to intuit an individual’s mood or mindset through the emotions that are detected through a voice call, or the haptics that give away intention merely by how someone interacts with their device. Or perhaps, we embed emotions into artificial intelligence as a way of guaranteeing that we build machines that can make ethical choices.

After so many years of digitisation stripping away the emotion from traditionally human services and transforming them into automated ones, we are now evolving toward a world of much more emotion, not less. Brands connect with people at a fundamentally emotional level, so if your brand hasn’t built in ‘emotional data’ that enables ‘emotional learning’ about your users, then the only emotions you’ll be in danger of feeling in the future, are disappointment and loss.

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