While a variety of self-reported consumer surveys suggest many are feeling more optimistic about the future, new scientific research from the NeuroLab of GroupM's Mindshare unit suggests they probably are lying, even if it's to themselves.
The research, which utilizes sophisticated neuro research methods to uncover what people are feeling at a preconscious or unconscious level, finds most really are feeling "hopeful," not "optimistic."
That's an important distinction, say the NeuroLab's analysts, because while optimism connotes a sense of "hopefulness in the future," hope represents a "desire for future change."
"We believe that the discrepancy between stated emotions and subconscious emotions often has to do with how people believe they should feel in specific situations," explains NeuroLab Co-Lead Arafel Buzan, noting: "For example, optimism is valued as a good quality; people who are optimistic through adversity (such as a global pandemic) are seen as strong or resilient which are desirable traits. Because of this, consumers are likely to self-report high levels of optimism despite their true emotional state not reflecting this emotional reality. We did find that people have hope for the future – but that’s quite different from optimism."
The findings are published in the lab's new report, "COVID-19 Emotional Segmentation," conducted in early May just before the revelation that George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, which triggered a wave of protests against racial injustice and police brutality that likely has impacted the subconscious feelings of Americans further. The lab said it plans to continue tracking it through the U.S. election in November.
Importantly, the lab has developed an explicit tool for doing that: a new segmentation method clustering American consumers into five distinct attitude groupings that may have profound implications for both brands and society:
The Trapped: The need to be gamified (or distracted). They’ll be most receptive to messages that show a return to normalcy post-COVID.
The Defeated: The need to be inspired. Less receptive to social good/COVID relief messages, but highly receptive to fitness, beauty, and wellness brands and messaging.
The Gamblers: The need to be awed. Craving high-arousal emotions, suggesting a receptivity to gambling, sports, and action content.
The Guardians: The need to help. Even after a return to pre-COVID behaviors, they’ll want to know how brands are making an impact.
The Controller: The need for routine. Less receptive to public health/authority messages; they’re planners who want to start preparations for a return to normalcy.
"The lab will continue to track these segments," says NeuroLab Co-Lead James Kelly.
"Identifying audiences through subconscious emotional measurement will be a permanent part of the lab’s work," he continues, noting: "Our second wave of testing will be fielded in the coming months, which will include measuring our segment’s emotional response to stimuli reflective of recent events like the Black Lives Matter protests and the coming presidential election."
The lab is the first dedicated neuro research and testing facility by a major media services agency, and was one of the reasons MediaPost selected Mindshare as our Agency of the Year for 2019.
The lab claims the new study is the first emotional segmentation from a media agency based on subconscious data, particularly with COVID-19.