Watch out: marketers are on the hunt for your emotions

Linh Pham – Master of Marketing – The University of Auckland

Have you ever been disrupted from your favorite sad TV show by an upbeat, happy-go-lucky advertisement? Annoying much? Marketers have now found a new strategy to completely handle this irritating problem of adverts not matching your emotions. But, take a guess on an even more unsettling side-effect that it brings: ads that track and customize to your exact mood… every-single-second.

Remember that time when you were enjoying a sentimental moment from your Friday night TV series, when a super loud and cheery commercial jumped in the break and destroyed your emotion flow completely? Something seemingly small like this is actually quite popular that it earns a name of its own. In their “Advertising and Promotion” book, Belch and Belch (2018) mentioned a phenomenon called “mood mismatch”, which is the inconsistency in emotion style between an advertisement and the media it is presented in. While “mood mismatch” is merely displeasure for the viewers, it might very well be bad news for the marketers. According to Belch and Belch (2018), the mismatch usually results in a lower chance of audiences remembering the brand’s message and a higher chance of them ignoring or skipping the ad altogether.

The true underlying problem is how advertising disregards viewers’ current moods. Belch and Belch (2018) advise that the promotions which fit the audiences’ mood will have enhanced efficiency. These days, with big data and advanced tracking technology, it is now possible to effectively predict and match marketing efforts with the audience’s emotions. Nonetheless, this has given way to another completely opposite marketing trend that many consumers may find quite uncomfortable: Real-time mood-based marketing.

A prime example of real-time mood-based marketing is an experiment launched by the New York Times in 2018 called “Projects Feels”. As The Guardian reported, Project Feels tested this psychographic method by predicting the audience’s emotion from the articles that they read and dropping related mood-fitting ads (Bell, 2019). It is claimed to have increased 40% of the click-through rates for advertisements. Apparently, articles involving top emotions such as love, sadness and fear guaranteed the best performance for related ads (Bell, 2019). And that is not the only application of mood-based marketing. In fact, it has been used somewhat conspicuously, without the consumers being quite aware of it. In the 2016 US president selection, Cambridge Analytica was found to have misused Facebook data to, according to its claim, helped Donald Trump win the competition with a similar psychographic practice (Bell, 2019).

It must be admitted that real-time mood-based marketing is a real improvement from the clumsy “contextual ads” which are put together by not-so-intelligent algorithms (Bell, 2019), and an absolute answer to “mood mismatch” issue mentioned by Belch and Belch (2018). However, while mood-based marketing is on the rise, the phenomenon also raises questions of ethical issues, such as the exploitation of mental health fragility (Bell, 2019). This and the uncanny feeling that it creates might be the reason why emotion targeting does not have a very good public image per se.    

One of the biggest brands that are applying real-time mood-based marketing quite seamlessly is Spotify. Spotify has been using algorithms to track users’ preferences in music and recommend songs and playlists of similar moods, which is a rather basic function of mood-based marketing. Figure 1 shows a Spotify commercial which content indicating that Spotify has music customized for all emotions you may have, tailored to fit every moment of your daily life.

Figure 1: Spotify commercial “Music for Every Mood with Keith Urban”. Spotify. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from

Nevertheless, the brand is taking further steps forward in the mood-based marketing playground by letting advertisers target music listeners on Spotify app with adverts tailored to the mood they are in (Mahdawi, 2018). Other direct collaborations, such as Spotify – IPC Shopping Center (Malaysia) allows consumers to choose foods based on tracked mood from Spotify’s playback history (Figure 2). With bold moves like these, Spotify is truly taking potentials of the new marketing trend into its hand.

Figure 2: IPC Shopping Centre mobile application online poster. DMA News Desk. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from

What do all of these mean for marketers and consumers? As for marketers and advertisers, real-time mood-based marketing may be seen as a “shiny new tool” (Bell, 2019) which solves the worry of their ads being ignored due to embarrassing, indelicate emotion mismatches. On the slightly darker note, it can be a dangerous tool to target the vulnerable groups such as insecure teenagers, as Facebook once claimed (Mahdawi, 2018). As for the consumers, it might be the right time to start looking after how you express your emotions online. Better be safe than sorry.

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