Emotions From The Inside Out

New Pixar movies are always worth checking out. But this year’s offering, Inside Out, looks especially interesting and relevant. It’s the story of a girl, but really it’s the story of the emotions inside her head that guide her behaviour – joy, disgust, fear, sadness and anger.

Judging by the trailers, Inside Out will be hilarious. What’s more, it’s based on a true story. We really are emotionally driven creatures, using our feelings to make better, faster decisions all day, every day. And that emotional cast should look familiar, too: it’s five of the seven basic emotions identified by psychologist Paul Ekman as being common to every culture. The only ones missing are Surprise – which quickly resolves into other emotions anyhow – and Contempt, and judging by the look on her face Disgust will be playing a dual role there!

Ekman’s work on identifying and understanding the seven basic emotions – happiness; surprise; anger; fear; disgust; sadness and contempt – go back decades. What’s really surprising about him is how well his ideas have lasted. After all, he hasn’t been without challenges. Like everyone whose theories become successful, Ekman has found himself a target for younger psychologists and researchers looking to make their name taking him down.

Getting emotion right is critical to understanding how to communicate and market better – because most of our decisions are made with our fast, emotional, System 1 brains. So it’s worth taking a little time to understand the main challenges to Ekman.

Because rather than invalidate his work, most of them make it more useful. Continue reading

When Do Reasons Matter?

Rationalising the emotional and instinctive decisions we take is part of life – we can no more change it than we can change the weather. For most choices, rationalisations are a social necessity – you have to come up with some to avoid looking like an unthinking idiot. A world where explanations like “You know what, I just felt like it”, or “I don’t know really” or “I just copied the guy in front of me” were accepted as justifications for actions would be a world lacking a lot of its social glue.

“You’re not the boss of me, System 2!”

Those kind of explanations make people sound like feckless teenagers – even if they’re often more honest than the sensible post-rationalisations we tend to come up with for our choices. The paradox of our nature as instinctive, emotional decision-makers is that sometimes the presence of rationalisations just feels right.

Of course, there are occasions – often dealing with artistic or creative work – where people don’t really like rationalisation. Yahoo! boss Marissa Mayer has drawn a lot of flak this week for the new Yahoo! logo – not just for its perceived blandness, but for a Tumblr post she wrote where she went into enormous detail about the thinking and reasoning behind every aspect. Graphic design is a very complex process, but explaining the process just makes every decision look overthought. It’s one of the times when rationalisation feels bad.

At BrainJuicer, we’re harsh on post-rationalisation – but not the inescapable act of doing it, more the folly of listening to it and basing decisions on it. Continue reading

Does My Idea Look Big In This?

When Charles Darwin wanted to get married, he took what he imagined was a methodical approach. He wrote out a list of reasons to do it, and a list of reasons not to. But then, at the bottom, his “conclusion” betrayed that there was more heart than head involved. “Marry Marry Marry” he simply wrote, adding a fools-nobody “QED”.


Jennifer Connolly as Emma Darwin

Next Tuesday we have the latest in our series of free webinars, this one about our approach to optimizing concepts. (For once we wrestled the Pun Genie back into the lamp, and called it Concept Optimizer).

What does this have to do with Darwin’s dilemma? We believe most concept optimization tools behave a bit like Charles Darwin – they uncover a lot of well-thought-out reasons and draw conclusions from them. Ours is a little different. We find out how people feel about an idea, and build our diagnostics from that – because we think, as in most decisions, the implicit, emotional brain leads the way. Continue reading

Packaging: The Plain Truth?

Last year the Australian government became the first in the world to legislate for mandatory “plain packaging” on cigarette boxes – no branding (beside the name of the brand in a neutral font) and only health warnings and graphic images to be shown on the packs.

Tobacco firms strongly resisted this law, as you might expect. But as a marketer I was excited. The results of this initiative would be vital evidence one way or another in debates about the role of brand and packaging in consumer choice – as well as on the role of marketing in public health.


Well, the first results are starting to come in. Continue reading

Eight Days Of Emotion No.4: Fear

The fourth in our series of posts exploring the eight primary emotions we measure.

Fear, according to psychologist Paul Ekman, is the most-researched emotion among academics. But in the world of people and brands, fear hardly registers. Of all the primary emotions BrainJuicer measures, it’s the one that crops up least, whether we’re measuring new concepts, communications, or looking at reactions to brands. It’s a particularly bold campaign that really goes for fear – like this one for a herbal tea brand.

Drowning clowns aside, marketing may make you angry, or disgusted, or contemptuous, but it hardly ever makes you afraid. So much so that during one experiment, when we wanted to induce fear in participants, we had to resort to a horror movie clip, not an ad at all.

Why is this? Continue reading

Eight Days Of Emotion No.2: Contempt

The second of our posts focusing on the primary emotions we all share, and how researchers and marketers use them.

Contempt is the least studied of all the primary emotions – in fact not all emotional researchers recognise it as something separate from disgust or anger. But Paul Ekman makes a convincing case that it is separate – contempt is expressed towards people (or constructs like brands) but not objects or actions, and it can predict things other emotions cannot. Ekman cites a study of marriages where wives who believed their husbands felt contempt towards them suffered quite different negative effects from those experiencing disgust or anger.

As with any “negative” emotion, contempt is constructive and useful – it can act as a warning system for more powerful emotions, or as a kind of insulation against them. And as Ekman points out, because it’s rooted in a sense of superiority, it needn’t be unpleasant to feel. As with Anger, contempt can be something we like to feel vicariously. Here’s the great R&B group TLC, singing “No Scrubs”, their enormous worldwide hit which drips with contempt for men who wrongly imagine they’re up to dating the band members!

But even if contempt is constructive to feel, it’s never enjoyable to suffer. For brands, in fact, it’s perhaps the most disastrous of all emotions. Continue reading