Publishing Partner:
What's this?
This content is created by an Ad Age Publishing Partner. Find out more about this program.
Learn more now.
New study reveals the emotional impact of branded content increases ROI
By Dan Riess, Executive Vice President, Turner Ignite
Sunil Soman, Senior Director, Measurement Innovation Research, Turner Ignite.
Published on November 19, 2018.
  • Branded content makes people happy: 62% more positive reaction
  • Happy people remember your brand: 67% found branded content more influential
  • Happy people who remember your brand will purchase: 17% lift in "very likely" to buy featured brand

Digital attention ... faster than the 100m dash!

9.58 seconds. That's the standing world record in the 100-meter dash set by Jamaica's Usain Bolt, arguably the fastest man alive.

8 seconds. That's the average time spent on digital content these days. You do the math.

At a time when the biggest challenge facing marketers isn't getting their message out—it's making a real human connection—brands need to give people what they care about, and quick, or like Bolt they're gone.

It's about love, love, love

Assuming we still have your attention, we're confident you know how branded content works. It's not a new concept. Storytelling as a way for brands to connect with people through content that entertains and resonates is well documented.

But what about why marketers need branded content in today's media mix? What role does quality storytelling play in moving brands down the purchase funnel? While lifting shampoo off the shelf is important, we're also thinking about how brands can form a relationship with people and earn the ultimate KPI: brand love.

"Huge technological strides in data science and machine learning have enabled publishers and marketers to understand how content emotionally connects at scale. Within a matter of days and without spending a fortune, we can now understand how creative resonates with the subconscious of consumers."
Mihkel Jaatma, Founder and CEO, Realeyes
"What's exciting is technology like this allows us to truly understand how branded content is emotionally connecting with consumers, and creating a lasting impact."
Eric Levin, Chief Content Officer, Spark Foundry

How do you measure love?

It's almost impossible to measure love between two humans, and up until now, research measuring the emotional impact of branded content has also been limited. While surveys have shown how people think they feel, our industry has lacked the emotion-based data to prove the why and who cares.

Turner Ignite, Turner Ad Sales' innovation engine, partnered with AI tech platform Realeyes to measure how people feel about branded content relative to traditional 30-second ads, and how those emotions influence key brand metrics. Using webcams, computer vision and machine learning, Realeyes analyzed the 90 percent of decision-making that happens when people don't even realize they're making choices—a space marketers need to play in to connect and drive outcomes.

Emotional impact leads to sales … it's written all over your face

Realeyes examined the second-by-second emotional responses of 4,824 people watching branded content produced by Turner across its entertainment, news and sports properties (see below), and 4,202 watching more traditional ads. Branded content viewers also answered a series of questions tied to advertising effectiveness.


1. Branded content makes people happy

Viewers of branded content were 62 percent more likely to show a positive reaction compared with those who watched 30-second ads. And because branded content typically tells a strong story, emotional engagement actually increased by 31 percent during the viewing experience. Emotional response while watching traditional commercials essentially stayed flat.

2. Happy people remember your brand

Over 67 percent of participants thought branded content was more entertaining, more relevant and more likely to make them think of the advertised brand at time of purchase.

"At Subaru, we believe in doing our part to make the world a better place, which is why we give back and support organizations making a difference. Branded content plays an important role in our messaging strategy, because it helps us share people's real, emotional stories in their own words rather than our voice."
Brian Cavallucci, National Advertising Manager, Subaru of America
"We've seen successful branded content drive relevant influence and deeper emotional connections with people in a way that's additive to traditional ads."
Amy Elkins, Executive Vice President Media and Marketing Innovation, STX Entertainment

3. Happy people who remember your brand will purchase your products

Respondents who watched branded content showed a significant increase in preference toward the featured brand and rated the brand 57 percent more favorably than the control group. When asked about intent to purchase, those who viewed branded content were 17 percent more likely to say that they were "very likely" to buy the brand being advertised.

Don't forget, how you say it matters

While this research provides a new window into how people really feel about branded content, it's important to remember that not all content is created equal. Powerful storytelling, after all, reflects what people care about deeply. And when marketers work with world-class storytellers, they too can connect and achieve lasting brand loyalty.

Media companies like Turner have been creating content that fans love for a long time, and branded content specialist groups now apply similar approaches in a dedicated way for brands. We know marketers benefit from partnering with storytellers and associating with loyal fans. Not only does this association create higher engagement (we've seen up to 33 times more, in fact), but it helps develop brand love.

We now have measurable, biometric data to put hard numbers behind the emotional impact of branded content, and how those feelings translate to lasting connections and real sales results. With the right content partner, it may be easier than you think to outpace digital attention and earn brand love.

For access to the complete whitepaper on "The Emotional Impact of Branded Storytelling," please visit

About the Authors

Dan Riess is executive vice president of Turner Ignite. Within this leadership position, Riess oversees content and data solutions that power the company's next generation of advertising capabilities, while closely aligning with sales, client and network strategy to strengthen opportunities and outcomes for marketers.

Sunil Soman is senior director of measurement innovation research for Turner Ignite. In this role, he oversees outcome-based research initiatives linked to Turner's non-traditional advertising products, such as branded content, social activation and advanced television.


Turner, a WarnerMedia company, is a global entertainment, sports and news company that creates premium content and delivers exceptional experiences to fans whenever and wherever they consume content. These efforts are fueled by data-driven insights and industry-leading technology. Turner owns and operates some of the most valuable brands in the world, including Adult Swim, Bleacher Report, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, CNN, ELEAGUE, Great Big Story, HLN, iStreamPlanet, TBS, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), TNT, truTV and Turner Sports.