Motivation is the key to driving action

It’s no revelation to say emotion is key to advertising. It’s been at the heart of many of the world’s most memorable TV adverts, with advertisers tugging on viewers’ heartstrings in a bid to strengthen brand loyalty and, of course, influence purchasing decisions. 

During an event hosted by ITV and APG, Phil Barden, author and Managing Director UK of Decode Marketing, agreed that emotion is essential to successful advertising. “When we’re in a state of high arousal, things happen,” he says. “We have physiological changes in our bodies: our attention span increases, our senses are sharpened to deeply process the object that has caused the emotional response – and that goes straight into memory.” 

Ultimately, if a TV advert is emotive, the viewer is more likely to remember it. “Advertising that triggers an emotional response has an inbuilt advantage because of these physiological changes,” he says. 

However, during the event, called Eat Your Greens! The Power of Emotion, Creativity and Cabbage, Phil acknowledged that emotion is not enough. Emotive TV adverts like Budweiser’s 2015 Super Bowl Puppy Love may generate engagement, but not necessarily sales. “The emotional response is still only a response,” said Phil.  “Is it in itself motivating?” 

Phil referenced Professor Roy Baumeister’s analysis of more than 4,000 published papers and peer-reviewed journals, where he found only approximately 1% to have a causal relationship between emotion and behaviour. Emotion in itself doesn’t spark action, and action is what advertisers need to achieve in order to really impact their bottom line. 

The missing piece of the puzzle, according to Phil, is motivation – the aspect that represents consumers’ desires and needs. Successful adverts need to respond and solve these desires for action to take place. 

But what does motivate behaviour? “It’s something called the reward system, it sits in the frontal lobe and what the reward system does is assign value to choices based on what our current goals or needs are." 

For example, if a person is hungry, getting food will have a very high reward value in comparison to when they have already eaten. “Goals are what drives human behaviour,” he says.

Ultimately, successful adverts cannot rely on emotion alone. “You do need both,” he says. “All you need is emotion; really? You need motivation as well.” 

To ensure emotion has been successfully achieved, Phil believes advertisers must answer ‘yes’ to the following points: 


  • Does the communication evoke an emotional response? 

  • Does the brand’s product play an instrumental role in the ad? 

  • Does the brand play an instrumental role in evoking the emotion in a credible way? 

  • Does it leverage the brand’s iconic assets to ensure correct brand assignment?


And to ensure motivation is also at the heart, the following must be in place: 


  • Does the brief include an instrumental link between the brand and relevant goals? 

  • Is this message distinctive to your brand?

  • Does this communication stage the brand as a means to this end? (with this brand you can do/have/be/become)

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