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4 Stats That Prove The Power Of Emotions In Sports Advertising

Unruly CEO Sarah Wood today joins sporting stars Sir Bradley Wiggins, Lawrence Dallaglio and Michael Atherton at Cannes Lions for a chat over lunch about how brands can effectively engage consumers around major sporting events.

Making yourself heard during these global tournaments is not easy. With Wimbledon just around the corner, and the Winter Olympics in South Korea and the World Cup in Russia taking place next year, the competition for eyeballs promises to be fierce.

But how do brands rise above the noise to make themselves heard?

Well,  academic and industry studies have repeatedly proven the effects of emotional advertising on brand and business metrics. And it’s no different for sports advertising. In fact, if anything the emotions are even rawer during these major sporting events.

As anyone who regularly follows a team knows, sport can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. From the joy and happiness of winning, to the sadness, anger and frustration felt during a defeat, the drama and theatre of sport has an incredible knack of wringing out more emotions than you are probably comfortable to admit. I know better than most what it can be like: I support Middlesbrough AFC.

It means any brands trying to make their mark during a sporting event have a challenge on their hands. To make sure their ads hits the mark, smart marketers know they need to ratchet up the emotions to 11 to stand out. But that is not easy, plus the emotional profile of an ad should chime with the natural feelings of the fans, while also being authentic to the brand.

So, as Sarah and co get ready to enjoy their delicious lunches in the bright French sunshine, we thought we would give you something else to chew on by rummaging through our archives and dusting off some interesting sporting stats using our content testing tool Unruly EQ that shows just how important emotions are in sport.



1. Men get much more emotional watching sports ads 

OK, as sport is the only time some men feel like they have permission to really show their emotions, it’s probably not surprising that men are much more likely to gasp, shout or gawp at sports ads than any other form of online ad.

But what might be surprising is just how much more. For example, while watching football (soccer) ads, men are on average twice as likely to feel intense feelings of exhilaration. They are also twice as likely to laugh, 29% more like to feel intensely happy, 67% more likely to feel pride and 50% more likely to be amazed. And that’s just from watching the brilliant Write The Future.

But it’s not such football (soccer) ads. Men are 33% more likely to feel intensely happy than average while watching ads around big sporting events, compared with women, who only had a 13% uplift.

Men are also twice as likely to feel nostalgic than women. However, interestingly, feelings of warmth tend to drop among men while watching sporting ads (13% below the average for men during sports ads) but for women feelings of warmth are 25% higher.


2. For people watching Olympic ads it’s all about pride, exhilaration and inspiration

Ahhhh, the Olympics. A time every two years when we suddenly care about sports we can barely spell (Yngling, anyone?). And a time when we suddenly feel a rush of inspiration, pride and exhilaration. And that’s just while watching the ads.

That’s right, if you were to compare the emotional profile of an Olympics ad compared with your average ad, you’ll see those three emotions stand proudly at the top of the podium:

  • Inspiration is the strongest emotion for both men and women while watching Olympics ads – double the global norm;
  • Pride is higher than the norm for both men and women, having uplifts of 183% for men and 150% for women;
  • Exhilaration sees an average uplift of 75% for both men and women during the Olympics.

One example of ad that really hit these emotions is P&G’s “Strong” from the 2016 Olympics.


When we tested the ad, 35% of viewers stated they felt immensely inspired – almost 3x the average US ad, while a quarter felt immense pride – 360% higher than US norm.


3. Super Bowl ads twice as funny as the average US ad

Funny ads are as much a part of the Super Bowl as touchdowns, beer and nachos. But did you know that the average Super Bowl is twice as likely to make consumers laugh than the average US ad?

Take a quick look at our chart above and you can see what we mean, with ads at the 2016 Super Bowl particularly tickling the funny bone (150% higher than US average). However, with so

many brands looking to make people chuckle, brands looking to stand out from the crowd should really consider other emotions.


4. Men have a stronger emotional reaction to Channel 4’s “We’re The Superhumans”

As previously stated, sport is one of the rare times when men feels it’s OK to show their emotional sides. And it was certainly the case with this spot, with 79% of men having an intense emotional reaction to the content compared with 64% of women.

The top emotions from both men and women were inspiration (43%) and amazement (35%), while happiness (28%), pride (18%) and exhilaration (9%) were all also well above the UK norm. Surprise was the main cognitive response.

Packing more punch than an Olympic boxer certainly helped Channel 4’s spot do the business. The ad was the most shared ad of last year’s Olympics, while more than half of viewers (55%) improved their opinion of Channel 4 after watching the ad – 28% higher than the UK average.

This was even higher for younger viewers, with 65% of 18-34s saying they had a better perception of C4 compared with 43% for viewers aged 55 and above.