THE MOOD IS THE MEDIUM: Ads are likely to be most effective when consumers actively seek stimulation and are able to respond, research says. Should shops take on board the issues of consumer receptiveness? Meg Carter reports

Question: When is an ad a commercial message and when is it a distraction?

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

that morning.

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

anti-empathetic one.’

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

the marketplace.’

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

into account.’

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



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

MediaLab, says.

’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.


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