Our new GreenBook Directory site is live!
Brand & Retailer tickets for all IIeX events now start at just $99! Get or give one today!

Undertone & System1 Prove Emotion Drives Digital Profit

[Insights That Work - Case Study] System1 applies behavioral science to digital ad testing for Undertone: Emotional response directly predicts ad profitability, and to a greater degree: the more people feel, the more people buy.


Digital ads get a bad rep – as short term sales hooks, these types of ads often drive web users crazy! Digital ad leaders Undertone know that’s not true: putting creative  first works, and high impact digital ads really do build brands and drive long-term profitable growth. They wanted proof, and System1 partnered with them leveraging our knowledge of behavioral science to find it.


System1 Ad Testing, like everything we do, is based on a simple truth – people make 95% of their decisions each day using the fast, instinctive, emotional “System 1” mode of thinking. System 1 is in the driving seat, so effective marketing is marketing that appeals to it directly. In advertising, that means emotion. Most research methods only pay lip service to emotion. For System1, it’s the predictive center of our award-winning methodology. Emotional response directly predicts ad profitability and to a greater degree: the more people feel, the more people buy.

We measure the seven universal emotions found in the work of Paul Ekman, the world leader in understanding human emotion. We ask what people feel, how intensely, and why. This calculates an Emotion-into-Action (EiA) score for each ad, validated as predicting its effectiveness for long term brand growth, which we benchmark against our global database.

Undertone wanted proof their ads were more emotionally effective. We tested and compared 25 of Undertone’s high impact ads (large canvas ads with interactive features) with ten standard display ads (5 Rich Media, 5 Static) and established a baseline by aggregating the standard ad scores. Sample size was 150 gen pop adults per ad. As well as our predictive emotional metrics, we provided rich quali-quant diagnostic reasons for emotion and standard ‘rational’ metrics for comparison purposes.


Undertone got the proof they needed. Their high impact ads performed exceptionally well in emotional testing – they outscored standard ads by over 60% for both the level of positive emotion and the intensity people felt it. 60% of their ads scored either 4- or a maximum 5-Stars: the incidence among all ads is a mere 13%. This proved that Undertone’s ads delivered rich experiences with emotional resonance far beyond standard display ads, and will be vital in defending Undertone’s price premium and positioning them as category leaders who understand that creativity is essential to success, even in digital display.

The results also went further than the original goal. In analyzing the data against in-market activation effects that Undertone provided us with (i.e. CTRs, Interaction levels) we discovered that emotion also predicts short-term effects. The crucial metric here is not the overall level of emotional response but a combination of emotional intensity and the range of emotions covered, which stimulate the System 1 brain and make immediate reaction much more likely.

Since the Undertone tests, we’ve also validated this metric against real client sales data, showing that great emotional creative is critical to achieve both short term activation and long term profitable growth.

Visit System1 at


Please share...

One response to “Undertone & System1 Prove Emotion Drives Digital Profit

  1. I wonder how much more robust an emotional predictive algorithm might be if it expanded beyond Eckman’s emotional categories, five out of the seven of which involve negative emotions. Surely measures of positive emotional energy that reaches beyond “surprise” and “happiness” Might prove even more effective positive emotional impetus to take action.
    The authors measures of emotional amplitude appear indeed to predict marketplace advertising impact. How much stronger might predictive power be if it measured A broader range of specific positive emotions, and focused in particular on those related to product emotional benefits. Emotional alignment of an ad with Brand and product emotional , benefits, as well as emotional amplitude, would seem to be a stronger metric.

Join the conversation