Beware. Your answer to this question may influence the content you receive.

For the past couple of years, media companies have been experimenting with targeting readers based on their mood. Recently, organizations like the New York Times, USA Today and ESPN began selling advertising based on the “mood” or assumed emotional output of a story. Retailers and tech companies are also testing heartbeat monitoring to evaluate store configuration, shopping experience, etc.

While this could be a passing trend that goes the way of the 70’s mood ring, an analysis by Kristina McLaughlin from Padilla’s Research + Insights team indicates that “mood-vertising” may be the strategic golden ticket for more persuasive and impactful communications. For example:

  • An article in The Guardian references statistics showing that ad click-through rates improved by 40% when readers were targeted based on their predicted moods rather than on their previous behavior.
  • A study by The New York Times showed similar results with emotionally-targeted articles. Those invoking emotions like love, fear and sadness (the top emotional categories) performed significantly better than those that did not.
  • Success is also dependent upon timing. An article about Yahoo’s Receptivity of Emotions study showed that advertising effectiveness increased by 24% overall, and by 40% in digital advertising specifically, if it reached consumers when they were feeling upbeat.


The New York Times crowdsourced data and used machine learning to create algorithms that will predict the emotions readers are likely to feel after reading an article.

While the New York Times recommends content with algorithms behind the scenes, Buzzfeed asks readers their mood upfront to direct them to relevant content.

So Why Is This Happening?

The simplest answer is, because it’s possible. Technological advances are going beyond demographics and enabling the processing of data to assign emotions to targeted populations and match them to relevant content.

The more complex answers have to do with consumers themselves. At the same time we’re demanding greater data privacy, we’re also demanding more personalized content. Enter mood-vertising: personalized content that feels less invasive because most of us are unaware that this technology exists and how it’s being used to influence us.


Consumers may feel less receptive to mood-vertising once they understand it. But for now, organizations can use this trend to inform and achieve their business objectives across the communications spectrum.

  • Media relations: When pitching to national publications who use mood-targeting, be ready to discuss the emotions you want the article to evoke.
  • Social media: Design content around moods and/or take a position on the ethics of mood-based marketing.
  • Reputation management: Work proactively to monitor the types of articles your brands’ ads are being paired with to ensure it matches your brands’ values.
  • Crisis communication: Be intentional and diligent with the emotions you want an algorithm to associate with an article or press release.
  • Internal engagement: Consider adopting similar technology when monitoring employee conversations to gauge potential responses.

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