How We Leverage the Power of Emotions to Create Effective Social Ads

At Barrel, we approach every paid social ad campaign with fresh ideas and a new perspective. It’s always exciting to start a campaign and see what intriguing creative concepts our team comes up with. Our success, in part, can be attributed to a framework we call The Barrel Emotion Index, which allows us to structure unique campaigns proven to resonate with audiences.

The Barrel Emotion Index allows us to prepare briefs and conceptualize campaigns with copy and creative that’s proven to work. It’s the secret sauce that fuels every campaign we work on — the reason we can make unique, engaging ads for our clients. It allows us to analyze trends by industry, brand, touchpoint, and a customer’s position in a purchase funnel, and then identify how to use our creative to generate the most desired consumer behaviors.

One source of inspiration for this framework was a Ted Talk given by BuzzFeed Publisher Dao Nguyen, in which Nguyen dissects what makes content go viral. In the video, Nguyen explains how BuzzFeed uses what she calls a “Cultural Cartography” to create content that will provoke an emotional reaction in the audience. In essence, the audience is “hiring” a piece of content to do a job for them, or to make them feel a certain way.

Take, for example, the publication’s infamous watermelon video on Facebook Live, in which two employees strapped rubber bands around a watermelon until it exploded. That video was intentionally designed, or “hired,” to provoke a specific response in the audience: tension and suspense. More than 800,000 people tuned in to watch simultaneously — proof that the video did its job well.

This got us thinking about the nature of digital content — aren’t our social feeds just another channel where we consume different pieces of content? And shouldn’t those pieces of content provoke different emotional reactions, just like any other?

The Barrel Emotion Index


The Emotion Index consists of seven emotion categories, like Humor, Curiosity, and Self-Improvement. Each category is divided even further into specific reactions like “I want to look like that,” “Sounds like an amazing deal,” and “Tell me more.” We tested our framework against dozens of paid social ads, breaking each ad down by layers of emotions. The most effective ads contained several emotions: a primary emotion, secondary, third, and fourth, frequently ending with an emotion like “I need this.”

Ineffective ads, on the other hand, often don’t provoke any emotion at all, or they stop after the primary emotion, making them easier for the viewer to ignore altogether.

Examples of effective ads

We’ve analyzed numerous ads to validate the Emotion Index, and throughout our studies, we’ve saved ones that we thought were effective. Here are a few:

“This looks new/on trend” / “I want to look like that”: Cuyana uses a lifestyle creative to invoke an aspirational emotion in users who hope to look like the model in the creative and the lifestyle it embodies

“Tell me more”: Away captures the attention of viewers by invoking a feeling of intrigue in viewers through posing a question that entices viewers to click to find out more.

“I can actually do this”: Quip uses dreamy, simple creative and copy that emphasizes the ease and importance of using their products.

Above is an ad created by Barrel, where you can see the Emotion Index in action. The Facebook video ad for Hurom seamlessly incorporates elements of Education, Self-Improvement, and Curiosity. This ad alone led to hundreds of email sign-ups that converted into Hurom customers.


Despite constantly evolving and emerging digital platforms, the Emotion Index allows us to have a detailed, data-backed approach when it comes to copy and creative, and maintain an understanding of what motivates customers to do something. The data we’ve pulled from our collection of paid social ads allows us to view the digital advertising landscape holistically and return to concrete examples of what specific emotions look like when conveyed through ads.

A recent report from the Harvard Business Review suggests that emotional responses to an ad “provide a better gauge of customers’ future value to a firm than any other metric, including brand awareness and customer satisfaction, and can be an important new source of growth and profitability.” Using the Emotion Index allows us to create content that resonates with consumers and encourages higher engagement.

We know there are a lot of ads out there. The Emotion Index is about cutting through the clutter, and getting to the heart of our audience. We believe that the best ads are the ones that make people feel something. If our ads can make a potential new customer feel something, and take a step closer to conversion, then we’ve discovered something really compelling.

Because the Emotion Index is rooted in the very emotions that inspire human connection, using it as a key element of our creative process allows us to come up with concepts that resonate with audiences in a way that other ads just don’t.

When to Use a Theme from the Shopify Theme Store

We’ve created e-commerce stores of all sizes for brands big and small. In many cases, we recommend Shopify for its flexibility and user-friendly interface. Founded in 2004, Shopify is an e-commerce solution that makes it easy to create and manage an online store. Much like WordPress or squarespace, Shopify themes can be built completely custom or purchased from Shopify’s online theme store. What’s the difference?

A custom theme means that the store is built from scratch and requires coding, essentially you will have full control over how the site will look, feel, and function. This includes design decisions like layout, typography, color, and animations in addition to backend considerations such as how products and product content is managed and organized. When it comes to a pre-made theme, this means that many of these factors have already been determined. There is a level of customization that is available within the theme but any other functional changes not available within the theme by nature will be layered on top of the theme’s existing code.

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Tracking Ecommerce Performance with Key Metrics

An ecommerce website can throw off a dizzying array of data, and it’s easy to get caught up with tracking too much. We advise our clients to focus on a few basic metrics to assess ecommerce performance before diving into analyses of channels and user behavior.

The key metrics are:

  • Website Traffic (Sessions, Users, and Pageviews)
  • Revenue (Sales)
  • Transactions (Number of Orders)
  • Ecommerce Conversion Rate (Transactions over Sessions)
  • AOV / Average Order Value (Revenue over Transactions)
  • CLTV / Customer Lifetime Value
  • CAC / Customer Acquisition Cost

Note: I wrote this post with the assumption that the primary ecommerce channel for the business is its own ecommerce website (e.g. sites on Shopify, Magento, or some other ecommerce platform). This may not be the case for many ecommerce businesses that sell largely on Amazon, eBay, or other marketplaces.

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Resend Your Email Campaign & Maximize Results

We’ve been recommending an email marketing tactic for our clients that’s yielded some positive results. It’s dead simple: resend your email campaign to those who haven’t opened it the first time.

The fact is that even on a stellar email campaign, where open rates may be over 40%, more than half the subscribers on your list will have either completely missed or ignored what’s in the email. There are several things that could’ve contributed to this:

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6 Reasons to Go HTTPS

At Barrel, most of our clients have websites that are already using HTTPS/SSL since we began integrating with Cloudflare in early 2016. Here are some reasons why your website should be SSL-protected in 2017 and beyond.

1. For Security Purposes and Trust

Sites without HTTPS send all of the data between the user and the website in “clear text” when sending. This means that nothing is encrypted, so a clever hacker can casually intercept data without having to decrypt the information. HTTPS enforces a security handshake between the browser and the server to verify that the certificate is valid and matches the expected signatures on the server. Many browsers like Chrome and Firefox already attempt to block the page when HTTPS is used improperly. Make it hard for data thieves.

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10 Product Page Elements to Increase Ecommerce Conversions

Much of the work we do here at Barrel involves helping ecommerce brands grow their businesses online. This often includes everything from content development to website redesigns and optimization to digital marketing.

While the websites range in complexity and the products are rarely the same, there is always overlap in the elements necessary to create an effective product page experience. The product page is more than just a place to talk about the product’s details, it is an opportunity. An opportunity to tell the brand story, an opportunity to paint a picture about the lifestyle one can attain by purchasing that product, an opportunity to showcase the features that truly make this product unique.

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How Solid is Your Organization’s Story? A Simple Template for Aligning on Who You Are

Over the years, I’ve noticed that clients who invest the time and effort in proactively defining and aligning their organization’s story are often the ones that make better decisions and drive better results. I want to share what I mean by “story” and also provide a simple template that organizations can use as a checklist to identify and fill gaps in their stories.

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We Are in the Storytelling Business

I studied film and history college and my lifelong dream is to write a novel, no matter how crappy it turns out. I’ve always been fascinated by stories. Done right, stories can transport you to new places and incite various feelings within you. You can end up caring deeply about something or someone you knew very little about just minutes ago. An effective story can make you switch long-held beliefs or turn you into a staunch advocate or the meanest hater.

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