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The Emotional Power of Brand Purpose

By Graham Page and Daren Poole

The Emotional Power of Brand Purpose

Brand “purpose” is one of the most debated topics in the marketing industry. Many brand owners have realized that consumer standards have changed, and they expect brands to go beyond meeting a functional need, and to have a more positive influence on society. As a result, many brands are defining a purpose to articulate to consumers and building this into their brand messaging. However, while consumers may value purpose, they’re also rightly suspicious of it, and so creating a successful campaign is not as straightforward as simply advertising your aspirations or aligning to a cause. Many such campaigns are either ignored or create a backlash for the brand. So – how can brands truly benefit from the emotional power of a purposeful positioning? To find out, Kantar and Affectiva partnered to dig into consumer reactions to “purposeful” campaigns, based on our collective dataset of over 48,000 ads.


Kantar and Affectiva use Emotion AI technology to help clients develop better advertising through pre-testing. The Kantar Link methodology involves showing people a commercial before it goes to air, asking a structured questionnaire which includes both implicit and explicit measures, to understand how people are likely to react in-market. In addition, with their consent, participants are recorded while they watch the ad, and Affectiva's Emotion AI technology is then used to understand frame-by frame the emotional and cognitive responses that viewers had in the moment. Our technology uses machine learning algorithms to code the wide variety of expressions viewers show while they watch content, which allows us to assess many emotional and cognitive states, which are interpreted in the context of the specific content. Together, this integrated approach gives a clear read on both type 1 and type 2 consumer responses to campaigns.

To date, Kantar and Affectiva have collectively researched over 48,000 ads in 87 countries, which has generated a diverse dataset of over nine million face videos, and five billion frames of facial video. To investigate the best way to land a brand purpose campaign, we took approximately 20,000 ads from that database and split them into two groups. One group consisted of ads that advertised wider brand purpose – such as a message around corporate social responsibility or environmental responsibility, and the other group comprised ads that did not. We then looked at the difference in responses that consumers gave us to those ads across a number of different dimensions, to understand if “purposeful” campaigns are more effective, and why.


Perhaps surprisingly, we found that ads which have a “purposeful” message are no more effective, on average, than any other ad. This seems odd – given more consumer interest in brands ethical contribution, why aren’t such campaigns more emotionally compelling? Digging deeper, we found that one key reason seemed to be that in many cases, viewers simply couldn’t understand why the brand was talking about their claimed purpose. In contrast, when it’s clear how the brand contributes to addressing a social tension and the message seemed authentic – ad effectiveness rocketed. Figure 1 shows the average performance of purposeful ads, split into ads where consumers said the fit between the ad and the brand was clear, and those where they did not. Across a wide variety of measures, a strong brand fit boosted effectiveness enormously.


For purposeful campaigns to be successful, there are two key considerations: 1) Authenticity counts. If people can see that the cause you are advertising is something your brand really contributes to, and benefits the world, society, and culture, the response to the ad is much better than if it doesn't. You have to do what you say for advertising in this space to be effective. 2) It's not just what you say and do, it's how you say it. Wrapping an authentic, message about a brand’s broader impact on society in powerful, emotional storytelling can magnify effectiveness greatly.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to issues of brand purpose, you can't fake it. If your brand really walks the walk – and consumers can make a positive difference by buying it, then communicating that purpose can be hugely powerful, especially if it is wrapped in effective, emotional storytelling. However, a veneer of purpose is not going to cut it – and brings not just an opportunity cost, but a reputational risk as well. We’ve also seen with this study that using emotion AI technology can really help businesses capture attention and bring people with them as they seek to make a difference.

This article was originally published in the Neuromarketing Yearbook. Order your copy today