Interesting emotional insights from sport advertising

  • The dos and don'ts when planning a sports ad campaign




(C: Unsplash | Braden Collum)


Sports determines the lives of many people, especially in the current age of "fitness, body and health mania". Some people like to go for a run in their new, sporty sneakers after work while others like to do a yoga session on Youtube with their favorite influencer. Some like to play soccer on the weekend while others prefer watching a game from the comfort of their couch, holding a cold beer. Wherever there is sports-related consumption, there is sports advertising.


At TAWNY, we analyzed the emotional impact of sports ads.

Think about what makes a great advertisement for you!


What does it need to make you like it?

What causes it to stay in your mind?

Does it have to be particularly funny or rather serious with a motivating message?

Does a famous athlete have to promote the product for you to buy it?


We have been working on these questions and applied our Emotion AI software on five different sports ads to get answers.



For this study, TAWNY analyzed advertisements with an association to sports including Visa, Adidas, Under Armour, Gatorade and BBC. We focused on both the implicit (TAWNY Emotion AI) and explicit (survey-based marketing KPIs) measurements to gain a holistic overview. We found that there are a few ingredients that seem particularly important when it comes to creating an emotionally engaging spot.


Want to know more? ... Keep reading!




According to theory, the most important thing to make an ad effective is to evoke emotions. Advertising videos that trigger high emotional responses are more likely to be remembered than those with low emotional triggers. However, there are also other factors that play a role. The comparison of exemplary ads should help us to find suitable ingredients for this recipe. Let´s dig deeper into the results:


Our TAWNY Emotion Analytics software was able to accurately map the second-by-second emotional journey of the audience while watching five different sports advertisements. The figures above show the emotional curves (valence) of three of the five commercials we consider illustrative (the first figure is an overview, while the other three go into detail about each spot).





Visa, graph no. 1:

The humorous Visa commercial revolved around a pun on the name of basketball player Yao (Ming) which starred in the commercial and the word Yo – as slang for hey. It’s interesting to see the valence score building up over the course of the ad with its first positive peak at seconds 20 after fans shout "Yooo" from different corners of the store. On average, the clip evokes stronger positive emotions than the other ads. With many peaks and a strong ending, Visa is trying to ensure emotional engagement and attention, create involvement and prevent monotony. However, it could be seen in the survey data that the respondents could not remember the Visa brand very well after the ad. We believe that this is because the message was not focusing heavily on credit cards or showing the brand logo extensively. This could have been improved by placing the Visa logo in the first three seconds of the spot or showing it multiple times throughout it.




Adidas, graph no. 2:

Just like Visa, Adidas generates lots of positive emotions among viewers, using the message "Impossible is nothing". The inspiring and motivating story of singer and icon Beyoncé is well received, which is interesting since she isn’t famous for sports, but for music. Two positive emotional moments were: “When she was finding her voice, she didn´t see limits” in second 11 and “She saw, that she could be an inspiration” in second 35. The ending is also particularly striking with the curve going steeply upwards. We suggest it´s because of the cute little girl singing and dancing, giving hope to others to become anything they want to be. Adidas also had the highest brand recall out of all ads (brand shown in the beginning and at the end), which could be explained by its very high general brand acceptance, as well.




Under Armour, graph no. 3:

In contrast, Under Armour shows the lowest positivity scores in TAWNY's analysis. The valence values remain negative and below those of Visa and Adidas. The curve hardly shows any emotional peaks, except for the scene where the golf balls seem to fly toward the viewer causing a spike in surprise values. A bit shocking, wasn´t it? The commercial was of a more serious character, creating less positive emotions, but also the least implicit emotional engagement overall. In the survey, Under Armour however, achieved the highest brand recall. We believe that this is because they showed the brand multiple times throughout the video in a very subtle way e.g., on clothing and caps.





Happiness. Visa triggers lots of positive emotions and thus also scores high on the happiness scale, as you can see in the illustration above. But funny commercials are like jokes: The second time you hear them, they are not as funny anymore. Our data proves that the ad from Visa was the least well-received ad by viewers who had already seen it. This is important to keep in mind as a marketer. Today, an omni-channel approach is common, hence placing the same ad on multiple channels so that the customer is exposed to it at various touchpoints. According to our research, we believe that funny advertisements will perform worse with such an approach as people will get tired of the jokes more quickly.




Focus-Anger - a different kind of emotion. Commercials that try to convey a more serious message instead of humorous one must reckon with arousing fewer positive emotions. Nevertheless, they can convince. Under Armour is a spot without any humor. As shown in the illustration, the ad has poor happiness values but scores highest on the focus-anger scale. The fast cuts and rather disturbing music probably require high concentration. Nevertheless, Under Armour performs better in the survey for “Likeability” than one would expect.


The funnier the better? Not necessarily. Advertising can be successful without making its viewers laugh. The most important factor is emotional activation in general, whether it's positive or negative. A touching but serious message can be just as efficient, especially in the long run and when being placed on multiple channels. Yes, comedy often ensures positive results, but happiness is not the only emotional response that ensures the success of an ad. Of course, its success also very much depends on the brand, product, and message the campaign wants to achieve.


Adidas provides a good mix of happiness and seriousness. The ad of this famous brand is very well-received by people who already knew the ad and by people who didn´t. Even for people who already knew the spot, the message “Impossible is nothing” still seems to come across positively. This is a classic ad that the participants enjoyed from both an implicit and explicit standpoint.



Celebrities are often used in advertisements to make them more memorable. Visa shows the famous basketball player Yao Ming, Adidas features Beyoncé, Gatorade writes a song about Michael Jordan, and BBC shows various tennis pros. The appearance of celebrities can have a positive effect in advertising, as people become more likely to buy a product if celebrities are shown using it. Still, celebrity advertising can involve risks and may for example change the ads’ effect on specific target groups in different ways. Two examples are the following…


Age. The Visa ad is quite old (launched in 2004), which may affect the level of awareness of Yao Ming among the younger generation. Our data shows that the emotional arousal achieved of the group over 30 is higher with this spot.


Gender. The inspiring and motivating story of singer and icon Beyoncé in the Adidas ad is especially well received by the female audience. Of course, Beyoncé is trying to motivate everyone to celebrate differences. Nevertheless, the spot shows women only and the gender comparison confirms the significantly more positive reaction of female viewers. Beyoncé is an idol, not only, but especially for young girls dreaming of becoming like her.





There is none, unfortunately. But there are special ingredients that, when used and implemented correctly, can make an impact. In terms of evoking positive emotional values, Visa and Adidas are clear frontrunners in this study. They both had a poor emotional hook at the beginning of the spot but improved with time achieving a big peak at the end. These results show the importance of combining implicit and explicit measurements with one another to gain a holistic overview of the quality of the spot. For example, Visa performed great implicitly (unconscious impact), but poorly explicitly (cognitive impact). Our data could have helped the producers to know that their spot was received well in terms of positivity and laughter, but that the brand name could not be connected to Visa...



...Would you like to know how your advertisements are received by its audience?



Test them with TAWNY Emotion AI!

Don't hesitate to reach out to us, today!

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