Q&A With Media Behavior Institute's Alice K. Sylvester

Alice Sylvester started her career in ad agencies before joining Media Behavior Institute  as COO. Her deep knowledge of research well prepares her for the creative qual / quant application of MBI’s TouchPoints study. In my interview with her, Alice talks about TouchPoints, how one measures emotions, agency research applications, and how the media landscape will evolve over the next few years.  

Watch the videos for the full interview here.  Below is an excerpt.

CW: Alice, your firm’s TouchPoints study measures, among other things, emotions in the full context of the environment. How many different emotions are there, and how can they be used to reach a target consumer?

AKS: The whole world of emotion is very interesting. At the root of it, there are really only six basic emotions, and they are the big ones – anger, happiness, disgust, guilt, for example. But then nuances do come into play. We have 17 separate emotions in our data set and they are a spectrum from pain to pleasure, with a mid-point of indifference.



We needed the middle ground – the feeling of “whatever, I’m fine, I’m contented.” Interestingly, in our pilot study we didn’t have the middle emotion of contentment, in there so we had elevated levels of happiness to help indicate the emotion “I am fine.” We modified the study to include a middle ground emotion so that happiness was more of an elated state.

By giving respondents an option for “contented” in the research, we were able to see that middle ground emotional state. We see contentedness and happiness as the most predominant emotions but even as happy as this country is  -- 76% of Americans describe themselves as happy at some point during the day – they only spend about 5 hours a day all told in the state of happiness. So that leaves much more time for a range of other emotions to occur throughout the day. About a half hour a day is spent in an angry state.

One of the activities we measure that is close to an emotional state is “doing nothing in particular” or “bored.” There you have to interpret whether that is a positive state or a negative state for your category.

In the U.K., an agency put an entire travel campaign together based on when people were doing nothing in particular. They determined that it would be an ideal state to dream of a great vacation. So they found those half hours and those times of the day and week to run that campaign to great success. There is an interesting interplay between emotions and activities.

CW: Do networks, websites and other media outlets parse by emotion?

AKS: Of course it would depend on the specific content of the network. Sports, for instance is a genre that is associated with excitement and some anxiety. You can actually see someone’s emotions change throughout a live sports event, depending on what is actually happening. And we don’t know yet, whether people in particular mindsets seek out a specific medium or content, or whether the content actually causes their mindsets to change.

There’s academic work on both sides of that question – are people in a particular mood first and they pick media that is consistent with that mood, or are they in a particular mood and the media/content impacts their mood and changes the way they feel?  Both are really relevant questions for advertisers, since emotions can influence a person’s receptivity to a message.

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