When smiles don’t lead to sales: The psychology of consumer behaviour

When people are in a bad mood, they really, really don’t like cheerful advertisements.

Nancy Puccinelli,  Associate Professor of Marketing and the Fellow in Consumer Marketing at Saïd Business School

Nancy Puccinelli, Associate Professor of Marketing and the Fellow in Consumer Marketing at Saïd Business School

Though a simple concept, this finding from Professor Nancy Puccinelli’s studies on the role of mood and affect on consumer behaviour flies in the face of many advertising and marketing strategies, which have traditionally been decidedly positive to a fault, and designed to grab our attention.

Speaking at PsyNAppS’ inaugural event, Nancy, Associate Professor of Marketing at Saïd Business School and world-leading expert on consumer behaviour, suggested that in a “deactivated” or low mood state, consumers would actually prefer watching advertisements that matched their sombre moods. Importantly, not only do people who are feeling low prefer not to watch happy commercials, consumers in a bad mood are also less likely to buy a product if someone “upbeat and chipper” is endorsing it.

Interestingly, deactivated mood states don’t necessarily have to be negative, but rather refers to low-energy compared to high-energy states, such as contentment (think listening to meditation music) versus excitement (think “I like to Move It”). As long as there is a mismatch between the energy states of the advert and your mood, you are not only less able to process the commercial; you are also less likely to even remember the product’s brand!

These findings are particularly relevant for TV commercials today. Compared to the 90’s, people today are tuning into shows of a serious nature much more. According to Nancy, 40% of today’s top shows compared to just 10% of those in the 90’s are negative in nature. We only need to think about the most popular TV shows today to know that this true. Breaking Bad, anyone?

It does seem, however, that motivation for mood regulation also plays an important role, which is to say, whether or not you want to feel better. While we don’t like to have happiness imposed onto us, if we actively want to feel better, an episode of the Mindy Project would probably put us in a better mood than Game of Thrones, and we should definitely stay away from the second last episode of each season…

But hey, misery loves company right? If you’re having a shit day, the last thing you’d want to see is a big cheesy grin from someone whose life is probably going better than yours.

For example, this:

Feeling Grinchy and hate the world? This might be the commercial for you.

Annoyingly happy? Go ahead, watch this.

So how can you apply psychology to advertising? As Nancy puts it, “It’s all about knowing your market!”

Interested in applying psychology to marketing as a career? Nancy is offering valuable research experience to students, undergrads and postgrads alike. If you’re interested, please contact us here for more details.

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