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Why mood matters by Richard Shotton

Why mood matters by Richard Shotton

Publishers have a wealth of insight that quantifies the important role that magazines play in people’s lives. The affinity consumers have for the content they read, increases the likelihood of action being taken. We also know that magazines are seen as time well spent (PAMCo), and when people are in a positive frame of mind, they’re more open to messages about advertising and brands.

With this in mind and the current changes to our media consumption, we asked media sage Richard Shotton for a point of view on the role that mood plays and what it might mean for advertisers today.

Mood is a mercurial thing.

Whilst these unsettling times may generate a sense of uncertainty, from moment to moment, our mindset shifts. And these shifts in mindset impact our every thought and action.

Evidence about how even inconsequential incidents sway our happiness comes from an experiment by Norbert Schwartz. In an office-based study, Schwartz questioned people who had just finished some routine photocopying as to how satisfied they were with their lives in general.

Then he asked the same question to another group of people doing daily admin – but with one twist. This time, before they arrived at the photocopier, he had left 10 cents lying on the top. Those people who picked up the coin rated their life-satisfaction as significantly higher than the original group.

Even this tiny chink of positivity changed people’s ratings of their general life satisfaction – albeit for a short period of about twenty minutes.

Why mood matters

Mood is an important commercial consideration as it affects how an audience interacts with ads: if advertisers reach a happy or relaxed audience their ads are far more likely to be noticed.

That’s not an empty claim. Fred Bronner, a professor of advertising at the University of Amsterdam, provides supporting evidence. In 2007 Bronner asked 1,287 participants to flick through a newspaper and then answer questions about which ads they remembered.

When the data was split by the readers’ mood, Bronner noticed a striking pattern. Those who were happy recalled 46% of ads, whereas those who were unhappy noticed just 26%. It wasn’t just happiness that mattered, levels of stress were important too. Relaxed participants noticed 56% of ads, whereas those who were stressed remembered a mere 36%.

Beyond noticeabilty

But the benefits of mood targeting don’t stop with noticeability. People who see ads when they’re in a good mood tend to like ads more than those who are unhappy.

Again, that’s not speculation. In 2016 I ran an experiment with Laura Maclean investigating this point. We began by showing 2,035 nationally representative people an ad and we asked them how much they liked it. Then we asked them to rate how they were feeling at that precise moment.

The results were significant. When consumers were happy, 21% of them liked the ad, whereas only 13% of unhappy people liked the ad. That’s a 62% swing in performance.

Our results aren’t a one-off. Hearst and Theobald’s Road Consulting found something similar in a 2019 study. Their research showed that 77% of positive people take some form of action after consuming media, compared with only 63% of those feeling less positive.

Puzzled by the findings? Well, there’s an interesting evolutionary explanation. For most of our history being in a good mood has signalled an absence of danger, which mitigates against a need to think critically. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that people in a good mood are more open to commercial messaging.

From research to reality

These findings aren’t just of academic interest. There’s plenty you can do with them.

First, account for mood when you’re considering where to target your audience. Reach people in a good mood and your ads are more likely to be noticed and there’s a better chance that they’ll be enjoyed.

There’s information available that can help with identifying those moments. The ‘Power of Positivity’ research from Hearst identified many of the media that the public enjoy the most: cinema, Netflix, Spotify and, of course, magazines. Heart’s list isn’t exhaustive, there are plenty of opportunities to target fleeting moments of happiness, from running next to feel-good songs on the radio to reaching people as they wind down on a Friday. As times change these moments might be rarer, but they’re still there.

Second, don’t be beholden to someone’s existing mood. Why not use your creative to cheer up the audience? They’re certainly in need of it right now.

It might seem like an ad is too weak a force to change someone’s mood but remember the Norbert Schwartz experiment. Even the tiniest bit of positivity could fleetingly change people’s ratings of their life.

The uplift in mood that a great ad creates might well be even shorter than the discovery of a dime – but that’s still long enough to slip in an effective commercial message.

Trying to put a smile on your reader’s face is not creative vanity, it’s a sober business tactic.

As Winston Churchill said, “A joke is a serious thing”.

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