Angry Clickers – Online Cursors

When it comes to easing your frustration whilst you’re at your desktop, there’s a whole menu of items available to use as a cathartic release. Whether that be a fist to the keyboard, the slamming shut of your laptop, or even just an overly forceful click of your mouse, everyone around you can sense something’s not right.

However, other than physically breaking equipment, what about your behaviour online?

From unwanted pop-ups to a painfully slow web speed, the internet can be at the heart of the cause of frustration and anger, but, can it also be the saviour?

How do emotions affect behaviour?

According to a study from Brigham Young University, there is in fact a distinct change in online behaviour, between those who are frustrated and angry than those who are relaxed.

The experiment, comprised of comparing the online behaviour of a ‘frustrated’ group, to that of a control group, the results were rather unexpected. Those who were ‘frustrated’ moved at different speeds on the web pages but were all-in-all a lot slower than the control group in addition cursor movement increased in distance across the page.

Other studies* show that those who ‘vented’ their frustration, actually increased their anger levels rather than calmed them. The insight which can be gleaned here is that the ‘frustrated’ users from the experiment could be moving slower in an effort to calm themselves and avoid increasing irritation levels further.

How does this relate to online advertising?

Online adverts aim to evoke a response from the users they are displaying to, whether this be a click, an interaction, or just the be seen. Displaying an ad to a user who is frustrated or angry can be unavoidable and can result in negative associations and brand dislike.

In order to avoid these temperamental users, advertisers can psychographically pick and choose those commonly in positive mind-sets. This can be achieved by considering context and format and by using data to make decisions on where your ads appear.

By utilising this insight you can ensure you avoid highly frustrating environments such as ticket websites and execute non-intrusive ad formats.

We’ve all been there when you’re not having a great day, and there’s an excitable, all-singing all-dancing ad, vying for your attention and getting in the way of what you came online to do. Is there a way in which advertisers can interact with a frustrated internet user and turn their emotions around; be a so called ‘game-changer’ to that users mind-set?

As with most digital activity, a data lead approach makes for the most efficient and effective campaigns. We can now apply behavioural technology to monitor an online users behaviour.

‘Trace’ is just one example of available technology which can track cursor movements, clicks and cursor speeds on display campaigns.

This will give any advertisers the power to correlate their campaigns with a user’s cursor movements and therefore emotional state on page and by creative retrospectively.

Turning that frustration into elation

Is there anything that can be done to turn a user’s emotional state around?

Creating a positive brand experience with how, when and where your ads are displayed is one solution. An article by GFK Global on the ‘Connected Consumer’ highlighted the difference between ‘emotionally pleasing’ and factual TV ads. It was found that users often preferred the pleasant emotional ads over the factual ones and that they lead to stronger brand favourability.

This is certainly something that some advertisers have taken note of, considering the recent Christmas TV adverts from John Lewis and Amazon who have applied this emotive centric strategy. However this has been seemingly over-looked by brands, when planning their online display strategies.

Further to this, creating ads which allow the user to increase their own happiness is another way to change a user’s mindset. A great example here would be to allow a user to positively interact with ad units. One idea I’ve personally come to appreciate is the fact that winning increases joy, and we can help users achieve this within the ad itself.

Creating interactive units, with puzzles, quizzes, games etc that are easily winnable, can stimulate a positive reaction within the user, immediately changing their state of mind (notwithstanding the brand interaction which occurs seamlessly in this type of execution).

As we can see, a users online mood can be hugely influential to their online behaviour and how they react and receive ads. Therefore the digital brand experience should be taken into account when creating the ads, designing the website and thinking about interaction when online.

In the digital industry forecast is the ability to create dynamic and adaptable websites and ads, that can alter like a mood ring, to the emotional state of the user. In the meantime, however, it’s useful to consider how you can provide a positive brand experience in a real bid to understand your audience and embrace those ‘online cursors’.


GfK Marketing Intelligence Review, ISSN (Online) 1865-5866, DOI:

*‘Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame? Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger and Aggressive Responding’, Bushman (2002)

Hibbeln, Martin Thomas and Jenkins, Jeffrey L. and Schneider, Christoph and Valacich, Joseph and Weinmann, Markus, Inferring Negative Emotion from Mouse Cursor Movements (2016). MIS Quarterly (Forthcoming). Available at SSRN: