How to Create the Best Ads Ever

A Surefire Way to Get Your Product Into People’s Heads

The best types of marketing will cater to our emotions. They’ll feed that basal thing called id, not the fickle thing of ego. This is why First Date by Hyundai is rated 2016’s most popular Super Bowl ad—it better aligns with this seduction than the competition.

Emotion is a powerful marketing tool because of its influence over judgment and decision-making. Good moods will make us anything from less analytical to more cavalier in the stock market. Bad moods will do the opposite. A strong ad will use this to its advantage.

To sway our emotions, First Date uses several strategies. Of these, I will highlight four. These Four Pillars of Product Popularity, as I’ll call them, work to steer our emotion in the direction of Hyundai. Here they are in loose affiliation to their order in First Date:

(1) narrative,

(2) familiarity,

(3) humor, and

(4) affiliation.

Together, these Four Pillars make First Date a more appealing ad. The first (narrative) keeps us amused and engaged, while the second and third (familiarity and humor) generate happy vibes. The fourth (affiliation) attaches these vibes to Hyundai. By analyzing the way in which these Four Pillars work, we will learn how to create the best ads ever.

Narrative

A good narrative is like a bandit who distracts you while another attempts to steal your purse; it keeps you transfixed. This ability is called narrative transport. It’s the essence of our first pillar.

Narrative transport is what happens when a story puts distance between you and reality. You get hooked in a plot and cease to critique it as you would everything else. The more hooked you get, the more your reasoning will relax. This diminishing pugnacity makes it easier for First Date to manipulate your emotions.

The narrative in First Date is, well, a first date. Kevin Hart plays a father who’s nervous about his daughter‘s first romantic venture. The story kicks off when he, in an inexplicable act of kindness, offers the young duo his new car for the night. Shortly after, however, we learn this generosity was just a ploy: the car comes equipped with a nifty little “Car Finder.” Hart uses the Orwellian device to follow the two around all evening.

There are several factors that make for good narrative transport. One of the more interesting is duplicity. It’s not just First Date, though, that uses this—it’s common to most advertising.

When we learn that an ad is an ad, we typically cringe at what follows. We know it’s trying to sell us something, so we approach its story with skepticism. Needless to say, this makes transport a little difficult. When an ad uses duplicity, however, and doesn’t tell us it’s an ad, we sink into the story without even realizing it. This is why First Date doesn’t reveal it’s an ad until the very end. It’s better for transport.

Familiarity

Once First Date has us engulfed in transport, it slaps us with familiarity. It gives us Kevin Hart, the ultra famous comedian/actor, and Queen’s forever popular Another One Bites The Dust. Even the narrative is a familiar American trope: anxious father unravels at the thought of his daughter’s first date. Nothing new.

Familiarity is our second pillar because it tends to garner liking. And liking, as we’ll see, is a positive emotion that can change our evaluation of unrelated things. This is good news for Hyundai.

Several paradigms in psychology show how this works. One of the more famous is called the mere exposure effect. In one famous example, Robert Zajonc presented participants with unfamiliar Chinese ideographs. Since none of the participants could read Chinese, these looked like nothing more than unintelligible symbols. The crux of his experiment was that he surreptitiously showed some of these ideographs more than others.

A few days after his initial presentation, Zajonc again showed these participants the ideographs—only this time he asked them to guess their meaning. As expected, none of the participants remembered any of the ideographs; they were just as unrecognizable as before. Unexpectedly, however, the participants thought the ideographs they saw more frequently had happier meanings. In effect, they liked them more.

Similar results have been gleaned from numerous other studies. We like music we hear more often, people we see more often—the list goes on. Collectively, these data suggest that First Date (and ads like it) can use familiarly to spawn liking. And liking will in turn makes us happy.

Humor

Humor is the spice of life. And as such, it holds a place firmly as First Date’s third pillar.

The purpose of humor is to generate more liking. When someone or something is funny, we tend to favor it over the unfunny. This favorability creates more good mood. In one study, for instance, students rated funny teachers as more likable and charismatic than their unfunny counterparts. Presumably, this humor was accompanied by good mood.

First Date achieves its humor through hyperbole. It plays Another One Bites The Dust when we learn that Hart is stalking the two, insinuating a set of nefarious intentions. It also shows Hart chasing the couple at one point aerial in an army-grade helicopter. These implausible shenanigans keep us amused and help to stoke more good mood.

Affiliation

After First Date has stirred up all this liking and positive emotion, it can come clean—it can tell us that it’s an ad. Whereas before this revelation would have jettisoned us from narrative transport, it no longer matters. Now it’s time to affiliate good mood to product. This affiliation is our fourth pillar.

Most consumer research shows that emotions like happiness and sadness can change our evaluation of unrelated things. This occurs under the banner of incidental affect — “affect” meaning emotion and “incidental” being how that emotion changes unrelated judgments and decisions.

In round after round of experiment, incidental affect has shown that pleasant moods will make people more likely to positively evaluate things that follow. In one experiment, for example, people who were given a small gift were more likely to positively evaluate products they were shown afterwards. In the funny teacher study I mentioned earlier, the students were more likely to positively evaluate unrelated educational programs.

This is why First Date is careful to induce positive mood before it comes clean. It wants to get our attention, make us feel good, then attach these feelings to product. If it did things in the opposite order, there would be no positive mood to attach.

If you want to create the best ads ever, then, you have to cater to the emotions. You can distract us with narrative transport, make us happy with humor and familiarity, then attach all this mirth and joviality to product with incidental affect. The result will be a more favorable product. It also doesn’t hurt to have a few million dollars laying around to invest in someone like Kevin Hart.