Special Session Summary Antecedents and Consequences of Emotional Responses to Advertising

Jennifer Edson Escalas, University of Arizona
Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University
[ to cite ]:
Jennifer Edson Escalas and Barbara B. Stern (2003) ,"Special Session Summary Antecedents and Consequences of Emotional Responses to Advertising", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 85-90.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 85-90



Jennifer Edson Escalas, University of Arizona

Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University


Although consumer research has made progress towards understanding the specific effects of specific emotions on attitude toward the ad (AAd) and attitude toward the brand (AB), the field does not have a full understanding of the reasons why individual responses to a particular ad vary widely across consumers. For instance, Edell and Burke (1987) found there was more variance in feelings reactions to TV ads than in other, more cognitive ad-related judgments. This observation led Edell and Burke and others (Aaker, Stayman, and Hagerty 1986; Scott 1994) to suggest a potentially important implication of this intriguing variationCfeelings may be more appropriately characterized as properties of the individual than as properties of the ad.

Additionally, our understanding of the effects of emotional ad responses on variables other than AAd and AB is incomplete. For example, the impact of emotions on memory in persuasion contexts is not clearly understood: research findings about the influence of emotional advertising appeals on consumer memory has been somewhat mixed, with some researchers arguing they result in poor consumer memory traces (Zielske 1982), while others argue that if tested properly, emotional appeals can have a substantial effect on memory (Friestad and Thorson 1993).

The purpose of this session was to contribute to better understanding of emotional effects by focusing on new antecedents and consequences of emotional responses to advertising. In addition, our session expanded the emotional responses to the advertising domain, creating a more comprehensive system of emotional responses. The session provided insight into these issues by examining three types of antecedents of emotional responses to advertising: 1) individual difference variables that affect the extent to which individuals experience emotion in response to an ad, such as affect intensity and the propensity to experience empathy and/or sympathy in response to a media presentations; 2) ad characteristics that affect the degree to which an ad evokes an emotional response, such as classical vs. vignette dramas, narrative structure, and rational vs. emotional appeals; and 3) the interface between the ad and the individualBthat is, the degree to which the ad "hooks" the viewer. Additionally, the presentations expanded the types of emotional responses currently studied in consumer research by defining and differentiating two additional emotional ad responses: empathy and sympathy. Finally, the session articulated consequences of emotional ad responses that have not been thoroughly understood to date: implicit and explicit memory effects. (The Table summarizes the antecedents, emotional responses, and consequences that were examined in the session papers.)



Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University

Jennifer Edson Escalas, University of Arizona

In the first paper, Jennifer Edson Escalas presented her work with co-author Barbara B. Stern, examining the effect of sympathy and empathy in response to advertising dramas on ad attitudes. This paper distinguishes between sympathy and empathy as separate but related constructs. The rationale for examining the linked constructs is that prior empirical research has borrowed but one half of the empathy/sympathy system, treating empathy as a monolithic response measured on a continuum ranging from empathy to non-empathy (Boller 1990; Boller and Olson 1991; Boller, Babakus, and Olson 1989; Deighton and Hoch 1993; Deighton, Romer, and McQueen 1989; Wells 1989). More recent empathy research follows suit, not including the role of sympathy as an emotional response to persuasive appeals (see Aaker and Williams 1998, for review). This paper aims to expand the research domain to include both empathy and sympathy as a more comprehensive system of emotional responses, and to test them in an experimental setting.

To clarify the confused terminological history of both constructs, the authors return to the dualistic tradition in multidisciplinary research, where disciplines such as aesthetic criticism, philosophy, and psychology (Morrison 1988) converge on the existence of two constructs. Sympathy centers on a self-conscious, emotionally cognizant, sympathetic observer who remains "outside" a textual or real-life stimulus, while empathy involves an unself-conscious, emotionally absorbed, empathic participant who loses him/herself in it. Even though both are considered feelings responses to created works, they are categorized as different response types. The logic is that individuals experiencing empathy completely forget their own "personal existence" by sharing "the feelings of the characters," whereas individuals experiencing sympathy remain emotionally "conscious" of their personal lives, and understand but do not directly re-experience another’s feelings (Langfeld 1920 [1967], p. 138).

In consumer research, even though sympathy is not mentioned by name, Deighton and Hoch make a similar distinction between emotional responses elicited by "feelings claims, following the empathic path to persuasion" (Deighton and Hoch 1993, p. 278) and emotional responses communicated by displays of feelings whose "intention and meaning" can be interpreted by consumers. The latter response can properly be called sympathy, for consumers can "conceivably be quite dispassionate" (Deighton and Hoch 1993, p. 267) rather than empathically moved to "manifest some of the physiological correlates of emotion" (p. 266). In this paper, the authors create two new scalesCone for empathy and one for sympathyCthat enable measurement of response differentiation, relatedness, and strength. The underlying assumption is that the different responses are interconnected parts of a system rather than mutually exclusive, and that the reconnection of sympathy to the empathy research stream allows for a more informed approach to emotional responses.

Furthermore, this paper examines an important antecedent of sympathy and empathy responses to advertising: the dramatic form of the ad. The authors use Stern’s (1994) labels for different drama types (classical/vignette), and adapt them to reflect Deighton and Hoch’s distinction between advertising dramas that show emotions versus those that teach viewers "how to have" them (1993, p. 267). Two experiments empirically demonstrate that sympathy and empathy make separate contributions to emotional responses to advertising. The authors find that classical drama ads are better at eliciting both empathy and sympathy responses, whereas vignette ads are not especially good at eliciting either. The classical drama’s chronologically organized plot enables viewers to recognize the feelings of central characters (sympathy) as well as to share them (empathy), which lends support to the idea that sympathy is considered a unique response in the empathy process. That is, classical drama ads evoke empathy by way of sympathy. Sympathy appears to be the "easier" emotional response to evoke in an advertising context, which seems reasonable insofar as complete absorption in a sixty second advertisement may be more difficult to evoke than recognition of the emotions. The findings reveal a consistent pattern of results, with sympathy the first and more easily achieved emotional response, and empathy the later response of some ad viewers.





In the experiments, the authors also find that empathy responses mediate the effect of sympathy responses on AAd. These findings provide further evidence for the empathic path to persuasion model. However, the authors find both an indirect effect of sympathy responses on AAd through empathy responses and an unexpected direct effect. The direct effect may be a function of a number of factors, including cognitions arising from the experience of sympathy and individual differences in the propensity to experience sympathy and empathy responses to advertising (see Figure 1).

In their directions for future research, the authors intend to explore individual differences in consumers’ propensity to experience empathy and sympathy responses to media presentations, which are an important antecedent of empathy and sympathy as emotional responses to advertising. The authors have developed two scales to measure these individual propensities in the context of media presentations rather than to the real life situations studied by psychologists. The justification is that responses to advertising stimuli occur in the domain of created media representations rather than that of real-life events. That is, responses to advertisements are influenced by their aesthetic attributes (formal structure) as well as by individual predilections, in contrast to responses to naturally occurring events, influenced solely by the individual and the event. For example, whereas someone might react with terror to the experience of viewing a sinking ship, that same person might react with enjoyment to the cinematic spectacle of the Titanic going under. Preliminary results indicate a direct effect of these two individual difference variables on the corresponding level of sympathy and empathy experienced by ad viewers, with the propensity to experience empathy also affecting the level of sympathy response.



Julie A. Edell, Duke University

Marian Chapman Moore, University of Virginia

Jennifer Edson Escalas, University of Arizona

In the second paper, Julie A. Edell presented her research with co-authors Marian Chapman Moore and Jennifer Edson Escalas, which examines three antecedents of emotional responses to advertising: the individual difference affect intensity, the ad characteristic narrative structure, and the nature of the ad/individual interface, conceptualized as whether the individual is "hooked" by an ad, that is, the degree to which a viewer is pulled or drawn into an ad. Two experiments examine the effects of these antecedents on upbeat, warm, and disinterested feelings, which in turn affect AAd and AB.

To better understand individual variation in emotional responses to advertising, the authors examine the interface between the individual and the ad, specifically the extent to which viewers are drawn into, or hooked by, an ad. They treat "being hooked" as a holistic construct that is related to a psychological construct, "experiential involvement" which is defined as "pronounced engagement with attentional objects" (Wild, Kuiken and Schopflocher 1995, p. 569). During episodes of experiential involvement, "individuals are captured by feelings, 'immersed’ in activities, 'absorbed’ in imagery, 'riveted’ by interactions with others, and so on..." (Wild et al. 1995, p. 569). These processes describe what the authors mean by "being hooked," however, in the context of advertising, the full extent of experiential involvement will probably not occur. Thus, "being hooked" is a more moderate concept, created specifically for an advertising context.

A basic tenet of advertising is that attention is important for generating responses to ads (Aaker, Batra and Myers 1992). The authors assert, however, that it takes more than just attention to evoke feelings in ad viewers: it takes sustained attention, sufficient to result in viewers’ involvement with the ad’s plot or arguments or viewers taking the ad personally. That is, only when the viewer is hooked can an ad hope to evoke emotions other than feelings of disinterest. Ad viewers may become hooked in a variety of ways. An ad can pull viewers into the ad by making them feel as though they’re experiencing what is happening in the ad, by reminding them of experiences from their own lives, by presenting an experience the viewers would like to have in the future, and so on.

Additional antecedents of feelings responses to advertising include characteristics of the individual watching the ad. The authors examine one important individual difference variable: affect intensity (AI). Larsen, Diener, and their colleagues (Larsen, Diener, and Cropanzano 1987; Larsen, Diener, and Emmons 1986) find that some people respond more emotionally to almost everything, while others are more reserved or conservative in their feelings reactions. Based on this research, high AI individuals should experience more feelings in response to ads than low AI individuals.

Finally, a third type of antecedent consists of the many and varied characteristics of ads themselves. Some ads are, by their nature, more likely to evoke emotions in viewers than others. The authors examine one particular ad characteristic: narrative structure, which the authors feel is a particularly good candidate for explaining variation in emotional responses to ads. Aaker et al. (1986) assert that emotions (in particular, warm feelings) arise in reaction to people or situations. Advertising narratives provide the characters and situations necessary to evoke an emotional response. Furthermore, some psychologists assert that different emotions have different "plots," so a story that organizes a condition of the world and a person’s relationship to it in a particular plot will lead to a given emotion (Lazarus 1999, Shweder 1994). Advertising narratives that show emotion plots should evoke the corresponding feelings in ad viewers.

Results from two experiments support the assertion that the ad/individual interface is critical in explaining the strength and nature of an individual’s feelings responses to TV ads. Viewers who are more hooked by an ad report stronger upbeat and warm feelings and weaker disinterested feelings. Therefore, not ony does being hooked lead to stronger emotional responses that advertisers might want their ads to evoke (such as upbeat and warm feelings), but being hooked also results in weaker levels of disinterested feelings, which advertisers want to avoid. The results also show that individuals with higher affect intensity scores experience stronger upbeat and warm feelings than do less affectively intense respondents and that affect intensity moderates the effect of being hooked on warm and upbeat feelings. The authors also find that narrative structure is positively related to upbeat and warm feelings and negatively related to disinterested feelings. Furthermore, these effects are mediated by the degree to which ad viewers are hooked by the ad. Finally, the authors again find that being hooked is related to more positive attitudes toward the ad, both directly and through its effect on feelings.



Patti Williams, University of Pennsylvania

In the third paper, Patti Williams asserts that emotions are not always diagnostic cues in memory and, thus, that consumer explicit memory does not always reveal an impact of such emotional appeals. In contrast, implicit memory is based upon accessibility and not diagnosticity and as such may reveal effects of emotional appeals that explicit memory measures do not. In her paper, three experiments manipulate the emotional intensity of the appeal, the emotional diagnosticity of the appeal, and whether the appeal is rational vs. emotional, in order to examine the effect of warm feelings on explicit and implicit memory measures.

Emotional advertising appeals have received increased attention over the past decade in consumer behavior research. Such appeals are common (Stayman, Aaker and Bruzzone 1986) and have been shown to have substantial impact on consumer attitudes and purchase intentions (Edell and Burke 1987). However, research examining the impact of emotional advertising appeals on consumer memory has been somewhat mixed, with some researchers arguing they result in poor consumer memory traces (Zielske 1982), while others argue that if tested properly, emotional appeals can have a substantial effect on memory (e.g. Friestad and Thorson 1993). As a result, the impact of emotions on memory in persuasion contexts is not clearly understood.

The objective of this research is to address these mixed results by relying on an accessibility/diagnosticity model (Feldman and Lynch 1987) to explore the impact of emotions on consumer explicit and implicit (Lee, forthcoming) memory. Explicit memory is characterized by conscious awareness of and an intention to remember, and is typically measured by traditional memory measures such as free or cued recall and recognition tasks. Implicit memory, in contrast, refers to the effects of a prior episode that are expressed without awareness or intention to remember, and is typically measured by indirect tasks such as stem or word fragment completion and category associate generation.

Thus far, research has focused upon measuring explicit memory for emotional advertisements, ignoring their potential impact on consumers’ implicit memory. However, while emotional traces stored in memory may be accessible after viewing advertisements, those traces may not be particularly diagnostic when consumers engage in the effortful, strategic searches of memory necessary for explicit memory performance, and thus may often be out "outshone" by other cues available in memory (Smith 1988). In tests of cued recall or recognition, for example, highly diagnostic cues (such as product category membership type cues) are given to respondents as part of the memory test itself. As a result, it is unlikely that participants will intentionally search for or use potentially weaker emotional cues (which are often considered by researchers to be "peripheral" or "heuristic") contained in memory. In contrast, however, emotional traces may have a substantial impact on implicit memory, which requires no assessments of diagnosticity, instead relying entirely upon accessibility. Moreover, researchers such as Zajonc (1980) and Kihlstrom (1993) have argued that emotional experiences may often be implicit or non-conscious in nature, which suggests that investigations of the effects of emotional appeals on implicit memory may shed light on previously conflicting results.

This paper reports the outcome of three experiments designed to investigate the potential impact of emotional advertising appeals on consumer implicit and explicit memory. The first experiment explores the impact of advertising appeals by varying degrees of emotional intensity upon both implicit and explicit memory. Results show that with greater intensity of emotional response, there is a corresponding boost in explicit memory for the appeals. However, implicit memory shows impact of both mild and intense emotional appeals. The second experiment extends these results, investigating the impact of the diagnosticity of emotional appeals, via relevance of the emotional appeal to the product category featured in the ad. Results show that when the emotion is diagnostic for the underlying product category, and processing occurs in an elaborative fashion, emotional appeals can apparently cross the diagnosticity threshold necessary to result in superior explicit memory performance. In contrast, even appeals featuring non-diagnostic emotions impact implicit memory performance.

Finally, the third experiment compares the impact of rational versus emotional advertising appeals on implicit and explicit memory. Results show that diagnostic and non-diagnostic rational appeals have a more consistent impact across both types of memory measures, while the impact of emotional appeals varies, based on emotional diagnosticity, consistent with results of experiment 2. Together, results suggest that emotional appeals do have an impact on consumer memory, however, not always on consumer explicit memory. In particular, some of the previous issues in finding an effect of emotional appeals on consumer memory may be due to the relatively mild emotional responses evoked by those appeals, or the use of non-diagnostic emotions in those appeals and the resulting minimal impact that mild or non-diagnostic emotions have on explicit, but not implicit memory. Implications regarding the impact of emotional appeals in general on consumer memory will be discussed, as well as development of appropriate measures to assess advertising effectiveness.



Dawn Iacobucci, Northwestern University

Finally, our discussant, Dawn Iacobucci, developed a nomological framework based on the antecedents and consequences of the emotional ad responses presented in the three papers in order to suggest directions for future research and guide the session discussion. Her network can be found in Figure 2.




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