The influence of ad-evoked emotions on brand attitudes

The influence of ad-evoked emotions on brand attitudes

Posted by Guest Blogger on Thu 16 Sep. 2021 - 8 minute read

This blog post was written by two guest bloggers: Juliette Geerts and Jade Kraan, both graduated for their Master in Communication Sciences at the Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

The influence of ad-evoked emotions on brand attitudes

Two studies on the influence of ad-evoked emotions on consumer brand attitudes were conducted using FaceReader Online. This blog post explains the design and results of both studies, and explains how FaceReader Online offered a solution for obtaining new insights.

Study 1: The effect of brand activism ads on consumer emotions

Consumers today expect brands to speak out on social issues and do not accept it when brands remain silent on these issues1,2,3,4. This has led to the emergence of a new marketing trend, with advertising at the intersection of politics, commerce, and activism5.

These brand activism ads seem to be the ultimate opportunity to start a conversation with the target group. However, experts indicate that there is a brand activism paradox: consumers want brands to take a stand, but when brands do, consumers are suspicious about their motives6.

The solution according to science? Brands must appear authentic in their brand activism advertisements by naming a concrete action7. Brand authenticity can then generate positive emotions among consumers, which in turn can generate a positive brand attitude8,9,10

For marketing managers, this could be a beneficial solution to the brand activism paradox. This theory has therefore been tested in this study (see figure 1).

Research model study 1

Figure 1. Research model study 1

Experimental design of study 1

The research population of study 1 consisted of Dutch young adult consumers (18-30 years).

For the purpose of the experiment, a brand activism video ad was manipulated so that the experimental group and the control group were exposed to different ads (brand activism ad with action vs. without action).

The brand advertised in the study was Vitality Clothing. This American brand is unknown in the Netherlands. This way, participants could not use existing cognitive brand schemas (knowledge about the brand) and these schemas would not influence the perceived brand authenticity and brand attitude.

Study 2: Does a character’s facial expressions affect a consumer?

Today’s large number of advertisements increases consumer’s selective attention. More and more consumers need to decide which advertisements they pay attention to and which they don’t. As a result, advertisers compete for consumer attention, leading to ever-increasing advertising costs11,12.

Therefore, advertisers need an advertising method that will reach many consumers without having to pay high advertising costs. Customer-led storytelling is such a method that may offer an effective solution for advertisers13.

Customer-led storytelling is a narrative advertising method in which the customer of a brand shares his or her personal emotions and experiences with that brand in the form of a story. This personal customer story links emotions and experiences to features and functions of the advertised brand. This link is what makes customer-led storytelling unique14,15.

This study expects that a consumer exposed to a customer-led storytelling ad will be able to empathize with the character. This empathy leads to the consumer feeling what the character feels, which can influence the consumer's brand attitude. A schematic representation of this expectation can be found in the research model (Figure 2).

Research model study 2

Figure 2. Research model study 2

Experimental design of study 2

Study 2 was conducted among Dutch-speaking young consumers between the ages of 18 and 30, living in the Netherlands or Belgium. In the study, 105 participants were randomly divided into two groups.

Both groups were shown a video ad of an existing suitcase brand (AWAY). This is an American brand, which has a high chance of non-existing brand attitude of the participants for the advertised brand AWAY. This was necessary in order to avoid previous attitudes to influence the experiment.

The content of the message, which was shown in subtitles in each video, was different between the groups. Group 1 was shown an advertisement with a customer-led storytelling message and group 2 received an actual (non-narrative) message without a character. Other variables of the video such as footage, length, and background music remained the same for both groups.

Ad including a customer-led storytelling message

Figure 3. Screenshot video ad group 1.
Translation of the subtitles: I am Sandra and I know that my AWAY suitcase won’t let me down.

Ad without a customer-led storytelling message

Figure 4. Screenshot video ad group 2.
Translation of the subtitles: Travel without any worries with the suitcases of AWAY.

How FaceReader Online could provide new insights

In previous studies in the context of brand activism and storytelling, other researchers used self-report scales for measuring emotions. However, this method cannot be considered as an accurate way to capture emotions for a number of reasons.

First of all, emotions are known to be unstable and temporary and are interpreted differently by different consumers8,16,17. In addition, the mental activity evoked by advertisements often operates on a subconscious level, making it impossible for consumers to report on18,19.

One way to accurately measure emotions is to measure muscle activity in facial expressions. For this reason, Noldus' FaceReader Online was used in the studies described in this blog. With FaceReader Online the various conscious and unconscious emotions can be accurately measured on the basis of facial expressions. In addition, FaceReader Online provided a solution to the limitations of Covid-19, since it allowed the respondents to participate in the research, without the need of visiting a research lab.

FREE WHITE PAPER: FaceReader methodology

Download the free FaceReader methodology note to learn more about facial expression analysis theory.

  • How FaceReader works
  • More about the calibration
  • Insight in quality of analysis & output

Speed up the analysis process

The studies in this blog post used a Qualtrics survey. FaceReader Online could easily be linked to the survey. In this way, the integration of the measuring instrument was experienced as simple and pleasant for both the researchers and the respondents. 

In addition, the respondents were guided through clear instructions during the measurement, which led to high quality measurements and little dropout of respondents. The recordings were analyzed very quickly and then displayed in a clear dashboard with handy graphs and figures.

What is most useful about FaceReader are the outcome measures that are calculated. Mainly valence of all emotions and arousal are calculated for each individual respondent, which greatly simplifies and speeds up the analysis process.

Research findings using FaceReader Online

Study 1: Brand activism

Using FaceReader Online, it was found that women experience more positive emotions than men when viewing a brand activism video ad. FaceReader Online also confirmed that product engagement has a positive effect on consumer emotions.

Study 2: Customer-led storytelling

This study found no effects between customer-led storytelling and brand attitude. On top of that, the empathy for the character, which respondents did or did not experience, and the shown emotions of the respondents could not explain the relationship between customer-led storytelling and brand attitude.

Despite the fact that no relations have been found, this study does give reason to further research. This study has several limitations, which a follow-up study could take into account.

As a first limitation, the results showed that the respondents did not find the brand attractive, which hindered their ability to empathize with the character20.

Secondly, it is also possible that the participants experienced the advertisement as intrusive. Research shows that showing neutral facial expressions can be a resistance reaction to the persuasive message21. Since mostly neutral facial expressions were measured, this may explain why the ad had no influence on the respondents' brand attitude.

Finally, this study also opted for one advertisement that differed solely in the content. A non-expressive product has been chosen for this. Even though this type of product is not based on emotions, it is not possible to develop an advertisement with an expressive product without communicating about emotions. This choice may have hindered participants from experiencing a strong emotional response, which may have resulted in no effects being found.

Considering these limitations, a follow-up study should use a pre-test to find out which brand the respondents find attractive. By doing this, the study makes sure that the respondents empathize with the character.

Besides, instead of manipulating a customer-led story advertisement versus a non-customer-led storytelling advertisement, the follow-up study could manipulate the storytelling perspective by telling a customer-led story versus a brand story told from a company’s perspective. This way the advertisement of the follow-up study would use an expressive product that communicates strong emotions. 

FaceReader Online scores well among researchers

FaceReader Online is an effective, reliable and easy way of measuring emotional responses to advertisements. Not only did it allow the researchers to easily analyze the respondents’ facial expressions, it was also experienced as a pleasant measurement tool by the respondents.


  1. Cramer, K., & Koene, A. (2020). How brands are working on the economy of the 21st century. Amsterdam, Nederland: BR-ND People Emotive Transformers.
  2. Gast, A., Illanes, P., Probst, N., Schaninger, B., & Simpson, B. (2020). Purpose: Shifting from why to how. Accessed on February 2, 2021 of
  3. Schoeneck, H., & White, P. (2020, 16 oktober). Why Brand Activism Will Be Here to Stay, Long After 2020.  Accessed on February 2, 2021 of
  4. Wilcox, D. L. (2019). Dialogic Communication Theory in the Age of Corporate Activism: A Postmodern Perspective. Communication and Media in Asia Pacific, 2(1), 1-10.
  5. Manfredi-Sánchez, J.L. (2019). Brand activism. Communication & Society, 32(4), 343-359.
  6. Livas, C. (2020). The Powers and Perils of Societal Advertising. Journal of Macromarketing. 1-17. 
  7. Vredenburg, J., Kapitan, S., Spry, A., & Kemper, J. (2020). Brands Taking a Stand: Authentic Brand Activism or Woke Washing? Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 39(4), 444-460. 
  8. Hong, C. (2018). Boycotting or Buycotting? An Investigation of Consumer Emotional Responses towards Brand Activism (Dissertatie).
  9. Romani, S., Grappi, S., Zarantonell, L., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2015). The revenge of the consumer! How brand moral violations lead to consumer anti-brand activism. Journal of Brand Management, 22(8), 658-672. 
  10. Yoo, C., & MacInnis, D. (2005). The brand attitude formation process of emotional and informational ads. Journal of Business Research, 58(10), 1397-1406. 
  11. Tabor, E. (2018). Waarin zit ’m de positieve invloed van influencers? Accessed on January 11, 2021 of influencermarketing-onlineretailers/index.xml
  12. Zatwarnicka-Madura, B. & Nowacki, R. (2018). Storytelling and its impact of effectiveness on advertising. In F. Bylok, A. Albrychiewicz, & L. Cichoblazinski (Eds.), 8th International conference on management - leadership, innovativeness and entrepreneurship in a sustainable economy (pp. 695-700). Czestochowa: Czestochowa University of Technology.
  13. Willemsen, L. (2019). Storytelling: zo effectief zijn brand stories echt. Accessed on February 1, 2021 of
  14. Kattan, O. (2012). Consumer-led Storytelling: Brand communication in a new Age. Accessed on January 31, 2021 of ntry/consumerled-storytelling-_b_1956919?guccounter=1
  15. Katz, L. (2019). 8 exceptional examples of customer-led storytelling. Accessed on January 31, 2021 of
  16. Barrett, L. F. (2017). How Emotions are made. The secret life of the brain. Revue québécoise de psychologie, 40(1), 153-157. doi: 10.7202/1064926ar
  17. Suhr, Y. T. (2017). FaceReader, a Promising Instrument for Measuring Face Emotion Expression? A Comparison to Facial Electromyography and Self-Reports (Master’s thesis). Accessed on
  18. Bagozzi, R. P., Gopinath, M., & Nyer, P. U. (1999). The Role of Emotions in Marketing. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 27(2), 184-206. 
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  20. Kim, C.K., Han, D. & Park, S.B. (2002). The effect of brand personality and brand identification on brand loyalty: applying the theory of social identification. Japanese psychological research, 43(4), 195-206. 
  21. Lewinski, P., Fransen, M.L. & Tan, E.S. (2016-b). Embodied resistance to persuasion in advertising. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 1202. 
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