It’s not new information that emotions incite action. Content that elicits an emotional response is shared, commented on and dispersed amongst the wide reaches of the internet at a much higher rate than content that doesn’t. The same is true for ads — especially native ads. Emotions drive clicks and directly impact the success of elaborate marketing campaigns. While we’ve mostly regarded emotions as positive or negative, recent research suggests that psychological arousal adds one more dimension to our perception of content.

Join us as we navigate the complex relationship between emotions, their potency and clicks. By better understanding an emotion’s place in your ads, you’ll be able to drive more clicks and leave a longer-lasting memory in your audience’s minds.

Psychological arousal gets users emotionally invested

Emotional valence, i.e., whether an emotion is positive or negative, has been used as the primary indicator and predictor of content reach. The same thought process was given to ads — marketers would avoid using imagery or messaging that could potentially create a negative association with the brand. That was before major scientific breakthroughs explained the power of psychological arousal.

In the book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” author Jonah Berger states that arousal represents our readiness to take action. It’s an evolutionary byproduct that helped our ancestors survive when faced with life-or-death matters. While we don’t have to hunt for food anymore or flee from predators, psychological arousal still determines how ready we are to take action.

Berger differentiates between high and low arousal. Anger, excitement, humor or anxiety are all examples of high arousal. They drive us to take certain actions in response to those emotions, unlike low-arousal emotions, such as sadness or contentment, which prevent us from acting.

As you’ll notice, high arousal emotions can be either positive or negative. Anger generates just as much arousal as excitement and both emotions compel us to take action rather than remaining passive and disinterested. Emotional valence matters but not nearly as much as arousal.

However, the science of emotion does not end there. Just as recently, dominance became part of the valence-arousal relationship. Dominance refers to how much control we have when experiencing a certain emotion. Fear is an emotion associated with low dominance, while anger emanates dominance.

When you combine valence, arousal and dominance, you can safely predict how users will react to your content or ads. You will be able to avoid undesirable reactions that can ruin ad campaigns, such as fear and sadness. The mix of low-arousal, low-dominance emotions just don’t cut it.

Finding the right mix of emotions to target audiences could enhance your campaign’s performance. But where to begin?

Native ads that stir the right emotions

Luckily, publishers have already experimented with content and emotions, and they’ve come to some conclusions that could prove useful to native ads as well. What they’ve discovered is that articles charged with high-arousal, but low-dominance emotions tend to spark discussion, driving more users to comment and engage in discourse. Articles about Amazon’s horrible workplace policies, for example, do just that — they stir anger over a situation where people have little to no control.

Articles that get shared, however, are colored in high-arousal emotions that radiate dominance. Inspiring, motivating and exciting articles that make users feel like they’re in control get more shares than all the others. Any article about a feel-good story or one filled with inspirational quotes will always be shared.

While dominance plays a role in the overall reception of content, psychological arousal is still the prevalent metric. High arousal can drive clicks even when accompanied by low-dominance emotions, but not vice versa. That should be your primary deciding factor when designing native ads.

Native ads that use psychological arousal to their advantage are bound to be exceedingly more successful than those that don’t spur us into taking any kind of action.

Feel free to use emotions such as anger, excitement, disgust and anxiety to provoke your users into action. Native ads that make your audience feel something will get more attention and drive far more clicks than ads that cause no emotional response.

Humor and amusement are always an excellent option. You can't go wrong with making your target audience chuckle!

You can almost hear the jaw break in this ad with the falling skater! It’s this kind of emotional trigger that psychological arousal — and native advertising — is all about.

Wrapping up

High arousal takes precedence over both emotional valence and dominance. Showing imagery and using messaging that triggers psychological arousal will give your native ads an edge over those that fail to appeal to their audiences’ emotions. Use scientific findings to your advantage and your native ad campaign will flourish.