The Emotional Map of a Purchase

Emotion matters in advertising because it is the foundation to perception and forms the basis for action (purchase). In other words, purchase decisions are saturated with emotion. An analysis of advertising in the insurance industry reveals the various emotions projected by different competitors in the category. It provides a glimpse into the emotional “pie” that a category can carve up to appeal to customers and influence buying decisions.

Before we delve into the insurance ads, it is useful to look at the full range of emotions and the intensity of the experience that is delivered in a longer narrative format of a television show. In this example, a popular television drama wanted to understand the emotions delivered in the narrative and use these insights to apply in the development of future storylines for the series. A map of the emotional script of the viewer (the viewer’s experience) is shown below for one highly-rated episode.



TV Show MapLegend

There are well-defined emotional experiences delivered in this show that are connected to the peculiar moments of discovering and absorbing new physical evidence or trauma. There is a sheer thrill involved in the discovery (excitement), followed by graphic moments (disgust) as the puzzle of the story unfolds (excitement). Anger is a dominant emotion for the viewer as the vacillating themes of justice and injustice play out in the narrative. Surprise is experienced in plot twists or new unexpected information for the viewer to process.

Now let’s examine three insurance ads that are mapped below with a key visual from the ad to trigger your association with the campaign. The fear of anticipated events deeply influences buying in the insurance category. Geico is known for its use of humor to soften the viewers’ feelings of fear and anxiety in the insurance category. Unlike the gecko ads, this storyline incorporates flashes of negative emotion to motivate the viewer to resolve the internal response by calling Geico.

In contrast, both the ALLSTATE and Farmers ads confront the viewer by presenting fear directly. The Farmers spot leverages startle and surprise as the key emotional chord to alert (or educate) people to the need for action. The ALLSTATE ad uses a wider collection of negative motivators such as anger, contempt and distress to engage viewers around the unpredictable nature of life. Each of these emotional slices served in the category will appeal to different consumers of insurance. Here are some highlights of the emotional script for each ad.

GEICO—Airport Cavemen

Caveman 01Caveman

Geico ads use surprise and humor to reset the emotional response to future negative consequences, like a car accident, and this softens the fear response.  In this ad, the viewer is presented with themes of discrimination and inadequacy through the comedic figure of a caveman, to stimulate a call to action based on fear and anger from the injustice of discrimination. The viewer is presented with the overall idea of vulnerability and the Geico brand is set up as the redemptive solution.


Mayhem 01Mayhem

The Mayhem campaign dials up the concern that there are dangerous and unpredictable forces at loose in the world; fear is rooted in the infinite number of negative possibilities in everyday life. The theme is: YOU need to take action to avoid complicity in your own undoing as a consequence of laziness, ignorance, etc. The response to the problem is more emotionally intense, but there is little to no connection to an ALLSTATE solution, other than the ending frame announcing the message is brought to you by ALLSTATE.

FARMERS—Distracted Driver

Distracted Driving 01Distracted Driver

The viewer experiences a regular rhythm of surprise to drive interest in this ad.  The narrative establishes a cause and effect message in a lab setting to represent that many of life’s “curve balls” are within our control. Farmers offers the insurance buyer confidence through knowledge and coverage for a better result.

Why It’s Important to Assess the Emotional Experience

If you seek to understand the emotional response to advertising, television or video, this method will capture the registration of the emotional score in the same way that sheet music captures a melody. A customer cannot explain the musical score of a song they like any more than a viewer can explain the emotional script of an ad or show they like.

Yet for many of our customers, when an ad or television show is effective at driving behavior, there is no guidance as to why it is connecting in order to continue to produce effective executions. As marketers we write communication briefs with many details to direct an agency. But what we lack in the briefing process is the knowledge of what type of emotional experience a brand wants to generate.

Further, there is little knowledge of the “emotional slice” the competition is delivering as a way to drive a distinct emotional engagement for your brand or business. Instead, we test ads to measure engagement, which is fine, but when you land a winner you are left with only your assumptions and rational explanations from customers as to why the ad is working.

If your competition has isolated the deeper emotional connection they want to deliver, they will be able to manage it continuously and you will be working at a distinct disadvantage as you listen to what consumers say they want. By understanding the emotional scripts delivered in your communication, you will be able to condense a defined emotional experience into concrete personifications of the brand and enjoy greater relevance in customers’ lives.

The emotion scripts shown above have been produced by Duncan Berry, PhD , using a system for mapping universal emotions that was developed by Silvan S. Tompkins (1911-1991).

  • Donna Sturgess

    Donna Sturgess is the President and Co-founder of Buyology, Inc. and former Global Head of Innovation for GlaxoSmithKline. Her latest book is “Eyeballs Out: How To Step Into Another World, Discover New Ideas, and Make Your Business Thrive.” Follow her on Twitter: @donnasturgess.


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