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Scientists Can Identify Our Emotions Based on the Air We Breathe. Can That Help Marketers? The study could be another way to evaluate audience responses to campaigns.

By Nina Zipkin

entrepreneur daily
Image Source / Getty Images

Effective marketing and advertising is all about making an emotional connection with your audience. But did you know that those emotional reactions actually have their own distinct chemical compositions?

Humans go through life releasing chemicals into the air through our skin and when we breathe. A group of scientists from Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in Germany recently found that they were able to identify what kind of films a group of subjects viewed -- whether it was funny, sad or suspenseful -- based on the different combinations of chemicals, or peaks of one in particular, such as carbon dioxide, that were found in the air in the theater.

Related: How to Create Stellar Content Your Audience Will Love to Share

The study looked at 9,500 audience members who viewed a total of 108 screenings of 16 different movies from December 2013 to January 2014, including The Hobbit and The Hunger Games. The authors of the study wrote of their findings that they had "obvious industrial applications where an objective assessment of audiovisual material is sought from groups of people, for example, in advertising, video game design or in filmmaking."

Theoretically, the study is pretty intriguing, but is this information actually of any value to communications professionals?

Andrew Dawson, the chief strategy officer at Deutsch NY, tells Entrepreneur that day to day, it's tough to say how the study's results could be applied, but "some of this research could help ultimately prove the strategy that advertising has been saying for a long time, that emotional advertising beyond just conveying product information is something that ultimately builds better awareness and recall."

Related: How to Attract The Interest You Want in Your Business

Allyson Hugley, president of Measurement & Analytics for Weber Shandwick, notes that the data from the study could add another layer to the modes of evaluation that are already available to advertising and marketing agencies, building on traditional surveys and more recent technology such as beacons and RFID chips that are used during live events.

"The ability to capture and analyze biometric and biochemical signals opens up new opportunities to evaluate audience reactions to stimuli in real-time...This research introduces a strong potential complement to those methods," she says. "With arresting visual content and virtual and augmented reality being integrated into more activations, we need to remain open to partnering those innovations with new evaluation methods."

Related: Effective Marketing Appeals to Emotions Instead of Reason

Dawson agrees with Hugley that an area where this could come into play would be in campaigns that incorporated virtual reality, because in some cases, people have reported that VR experiences made such a visceral impact that it triggered post-traumatic stress. He also notes that the research could help change the minds of communications professionals and clients who want to err on the side of caution in their invocation of intense emotion in campaigns.

"There are certain times when clients will say, 'let's dial it down a little, let's be more conservative,'" he says. "People always talk about 'breakthrough communications,' but if you were to technically benchmark it and say anything less than breakthrough is unlikely to create a physiological response, it would break a longstanding argument in the world of advertising."
Nina Zipkin

Entrepreneur Staff

Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.

Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.

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