The power of emotions during a crisis

Luma recently tested two Victorian Government COVID-19 ads - one featuring health care workers Sam and Sarah and the other Magda Szubanski playing the infamous Sharon. We partnered with US AI tech company Canvs to do an in-depth analysis of the emotions evoked by the ads.

Sam/Sarah - Victorian Government Aug 2020

Sharon - Victorian Government Aug 2020

Emotional Reactions

The ai technology automatically creates insights from our open ended questions based on learning real human expression and language.

Overall Sharon received more emotional reactions than Sam and Sarah. And the responses to Sharon were also much more positive (probably not that surprising given the content). This lead to significantly more engagement throughout the entire ad, with an Ongoing Engagement Score of 6.0 (which is our effectiveness benchmark) compared to Sam and Sarah's at 5.6. On the other hand, viewers developed a strong personal connection with Sam and Sarah and great empathy with their situation.

Emotions - Sam and Sarah

Emotions were mixed but the ad generated strong feelings of sadness and even hate around the behaviour that lead to Wave 2.

Testimonial - Hate

"How a small number of people, mostly through deliberate actions, have spread this virus throughout the community. I felt sorry for Sarah not being able to see her children. I thought that if I get the virus as bad as Sarah I would die."

Emotions - Sharon

Sharon's response was polar opposite with strong feelings of enjoyment, love and humour.

Testimonial - Enjoy

"It was attention getting, humorous and a had a good message."

Impact on Covid safe attitudes and behaviour

Both Sharon and Sam/Sarah communicate the key ideas clearly with 9 out of 10 people taking away the key message in both ads. While Victorians were receptive to both ads Sam and Sarah's story is more compelling than Sharon's. Magda Szubanski is funny and engaging but some felt it was too authoritative and just told them what they should and shouldn't do.

Meanwhile, the audience identified strongly with Sarah's story, receiving a much higher empathy score. Ultimately, this ad was significantly more persuasive with a score of 7.5 compared to Sharon's 6.8 (6.0 effectiveness benchmark).

While the ads didn't provide new information on Covid, they both effectively emphasise the importance of current rules and following the restrictions. The serious consequences of breaking the rules was more impactful in Sam and Sarah.

Testimonial - Sharon

The sooner we all stick by the covid restrictions rules, the sooner we will be allowed to open up and get back to the activities we enjoy.

Testimonial - Sam/Sarah

Be aware of the dangers of COVID and that we have to stay apart so that we can be together later.


While Sharon was a more engaging ad, people had a stronger connection to Sam and Sarah's story. Positive feelings are more engaging, but people were more likely to follow the lockdown guidelines after seeing Sam and Sarah as the consequences had an emotional impact. Telling a story delivered the key message and left a lasting impression and intention to follow-through.

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