Question: When is an ad a commercial message and when is it a
Answer: It depends on the mood of the recipient. For proof, look no
further than the striking effect the death of Diana, Princess of Wales,
had on recall and awareness of many familiar campaigns. The state of
mind of a consumer at the time he or she sees an ad is as important as
the ’environment’ in which that ad appears, an increasing number of
agencies believe. But how ready - and able - is the industry to put this
understanding to practical use?
Until now, there has been little research into how consumer mood shapes
receptiveness to advertising and, in turn, the ultimate effectiveness of
ads. Sure, there’s been significant attention paid to charting shifts in
attitude at a ’macro’ level - mapping social trends. But few studies
have attempted to probe how consumers’ moods shift according to when
they see an ad, what they are doing and what state of mind they are
For the time being, at least, the emphasis is on refining the mood a
campaign is designed to create to reduce the risk of failure. Increasing
investment in and reliance on pre-testing has produced a steady stream
of business for research companies such as Millward Brown. The
assumption is that consumers are selective about the information they
retain. The process attempts to predict what will and what will not grab
their attention. It is, however, anything but faultless.
Mark Stockdale, the Leo Burnett executive planning director, says: ’It’s
a share-of-mind thing. If there is a major external event, you obviously
lose share of mind. Also, if that person is low or feeling depressed it
is harder to cut through.’ This has an effect in pre-testing research
groups, he adds. ’People passing through bring all sorts of emotional
baggage with them. It can have a significant effect.’ One group
moderator recently challenged a particular gloomy participant to gauge
her response to an ad, only to discover her divorce had come through
While there is obviously a limit to how much attention agencies can
afford to pay to an individual’s mood, too few use understanding of mood
shifts strategically, according to Jon Wilkins, creative communications
director at New PHD: ’Placing an ad in a particular environment simply
creates a meeting. To create a response at a deeper level is a question
of matching the mood - of latching on to something more than simply an
opportunity to view.’ Studies such as the Henley Centre’s Planning for
Social Change survey go some way to meeting this need. However, factors
affecting mood at a ’micro’ level should also be taken into account, he
The thinking behind most ads goes little further than achieving the
right style or tone to match the media environment, according to Malcolm
White, the Ammirati Puris Lintas planning director. ’But there’s a
growing need to think about what kind of response it will get it if it
appears at a particular time,’ he says. ’Sometimes consumer mood is
overlooked - it’s not considered as much as perhaps it ought to be.’ A
case in point was the death of Princess Diana, adds Stockdale.
’Tracking of a number of our campaigns through this period saw awareness
and recall nose-dive.’
Not all shifts in mood, however, are as easy to identify or explain.
And research into this is scarce. One area where the effect of mood
shifts is being taken seriously is TV planning. ’People are in a
different mood when watching Blind Date, TFI Friday and ER,’ Graham
Bednash, a partner at the media strategist, Michaelides & Bednash, says.
’People say taking into account ’environment’ is important, but they’re
not doing it. It’s a matter of understanding that an ad in one
environment will be perceived differently when seen in another.’
This suggestion is supported by an increasing body of evidence gathered
by other agencies. Ogilvy & Mather, for example, has attempted to
identify ’enforcement factors’ in different media. A joint study with
the Media Partnership compared viewer involvement in TV programmes with
viewer recall of ads appearing within and around them, classifying three
viewing moods - casual, focused and absorbed.
’Focused’ viewing was found to be the best for recall.
CIA Medianetwork, meanwhile, conducted a recent study with the
University of Leicester into the correlation between the type of
programmes watched and the effect of advertising in different programmes
on viewers’ recall of ads and their attitudes to brands. It reveals that
the greater the viewer’s involvement with the programme, the better
their attitude to the brand.
However, programmes with lower involvement deliver higher short-term
awareness of ads (see the Effect of Context box, far right).
’The findings show if you want to raise attitudes to a brand, it is
worth being more precise about the programmes the ad is shown in,’ the
CIA deputy managing director, Marco Rimini, explains. ’People may have
done so on intuition in the past. But this suggests there might be some
scientific basis for it.’ Maybe. But what about beyond the TV
environment - can the consumer’s state of mind have a direct effect on
their receptiveness to it? And can agencies afford to care?
In some cases, perhaps they should, Katrina Michel, the head of planning
at O&M, believes. ’Do business people respond better to advertising in
or out of the workplace?’ she asks.
’When are women in the right mood to discuss contraception brands? Is it
a health issue or a women’s issue? A personal issue or an issue for you
and your partner? It’s a question of identifying when a consumer will be
in an empathetic mood and avoiding when they are likely to be in an
It may sound like psychobabble, but time, place and a host of local - or
personal - issues can affect whether someone feels up or down, actively
interested or distracted by a commercial message, Dr Aric Sigman, a
psychologist, affirms. (see Mindset box, below). ’The best route is to
catch the person in the right frame of mind at the right moment, for
example when they want instant gratification or when they are near, or
on their way to, the point of sale,’ he says.
Dr Sigman identifies two key issues: the state of mind the consumer is
in and the nature of the exposure they have to commercial messages at a
particular time. He refers to two distinct consumer moods: ’telic’, a
goal-oriented state where we are focused on the job in hand, such as
driving to the shops, and ’paratelic’, a sense-driven state where we
desire immediate or near-instant gratification. These are factors which
’optimise’ the ability for people to be persuaded to buy something, he
maintains. Combine the two, he argues, and the impact of an ad is far
So, Admedia promises that advertisers will buy into its ’eyesite’
package of solus spots in shopping precinct and service station loos.
Not only must consumers pass by these ads, but they do so at a time when
a) they are actively seeking stimulation, b) they are in a shopping
frame of mind and c) they have an opportunity to respond, the company
claims. Penetrating insight, or a glimpse of the blindingly obvious?
Well, many claim to have come to such conclusions by gut instinct. Few,
however, are using these conclusions in the creative process.
’Often, advertising is developed without taking into consideration the
programmes around which those ads will appear. There is a tendency to
treat programmes as the same - the only variables being ratings and
price,’ Bednash observes. HHCL’s Bob Dylan pastiche ad for Maxell -
which was honed after qualitative research among potential buyers
concerning the type of programming they liked best was used to shape the
media schedule with creative work designed to fit - remains an
’While the depths to which research into mood will always be restricted
by cost, where there are enough people likely to be feeling in a
particular way at a particular point, it could be worth further
exploration,’ Rimini adds. Agencies insist on consigning these sort of
questions to the media department - a mistake, he believes. ’Campaigns
either tend to get enough coverage and frequency or the right context,
not both. For large television advertisers, striking a balance between
the two has to be an important principle. When pursuing coverage and
frequency, it is too easy to overlook the effect your advertising has in
Michel agrees: ’Often, people forget to ask the target audience what
media they watch and why and fail to feed this into the creative
process. If you have a clearly defined target audience, however, this is
a must.’ Acting on such insight is not always easy. ’To capitalise on
mood you must be tactical,’ Wilkins adds. ’It’s something we haven’t got
our heads around in agencies as few planning strategies can build in the
flexibility required to take anything other than social shifts of mood
Bednash, however, points out that technology may soon provide an
’When broadcast media becomes truly interactive, an advertiser could ask
the consumer: ’How do you feel today? Happy or sad? Do you want to be
moved or entertained?’.’
Are your consumers in a ’telic’ or a ’paratelic’ state of mind when they
receive your ads? If you don’t know, perhaps you should, advises Dr Aric
Sigman, consultant psychologist-turned-media observer.
Although an advertising novice (he owns neither a TV or VCR), Sigman
does know a lot about what makes us tick. He is a behavioural
neurological psychologist focusing on the internal motivations that
affect our moods rather than external, social trends.
The fragmentation and increasing sophistication of media means that the
90s consumer risks sensory overload, Sigman says. The flip side to this
is that when consumers are cut off from communications, they will
actively seek them out.
Sigman highlights two distinct consumer moods: ’telic’, a goal-oriented
state where the person is focused on the job in hand, such as driving to
the shops, and ’paratelic’, a sense-driven state where he or she desires
immediate or near-instant gratification.
These factors ’optimise’ the ability of people to be persuaded to buy
something, he maintains. Balance the right environment with a consumer’s
optimum state of mind and the impact of ads can be magnified, he
Sigman’s views are detailed in a study that is being used by the media
agency, Admedia, to tout what it claims is a ’new’ advertising medium -
public washrooms in busy shopping centres and motorway services.
True, there have already been ads on loo doors in pubs and clubs. But
the difference here is that these washroom sites have been carefully
selected to target consumers when they are at their most receptive to
the advertising and in an actively motivated state to buy, the company
THE EFFECT OF CONTEXT
CIA Medianetwork and the University of Leicester have conducted
qualitative research into the effect of programming on the awareness of
ads and perceptions of brands. Three ’context effects’ were identified:
involvement, enjoyment and entertainment.
The findings showed that there was:
- no correlation between audience involvement in a programme
- no recall of ads in and around it
- the greater the involvement in the programme, the better the attitudes
concerning the ads
- enjoyment and entertainment had no impact on ad recall
- enjoyment and entertainment had no significant positive effect on
attitudes to brands
’Everyone has found a relationship between emotional response to a
programme and the recall of the ads,’ Anthony Jones, the head of CIA
’We found something more interesting: that what can be affected is
attitude and disposition to ads rather than just ’awareness’.’ Phase two
of the research - which programmes provoke what response - will take
place next year.