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Links among advertising emotion and selling

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As far back as the 1990s, world-renowned neuroscientist, AR Damasio, showed that no decision we humans make is based wholly on rational thinking.

Our highly developed neocortex equips us to perform wondrous feats of reason and analysis, but it is still wired up through our older, emotionally driven, biological brain.

Which means, no matter how hard we think that we have actually thought about a decision, we can’t make that decision until we interface with our senses, emotions, instinct, and intuition.

So, don’t let them ever tell you that advertising isn’t brain surgery. In another study, according to the University of Washington: “Brain scan imaging supports the idea that every time you have to make a choice in your personal life, you need to feel the projected emotional outcome of each choice – subconsciously or intuitively. “You then make that choice according to that projected feeling.

In short, the mind engages its emotional centers even when making decisions as simple as whether to wear a seatbeit or to have cake rather than broccoli.

John Kenneth Galbraith knew this years ago when he said: “A person buying ordinary production in a supermarket is in touch with his deepest emotions.”
Research conducted on supermarket shoppers and published in the Journal of Marketing in the 1990s, showed that only 51% could recall the most logical feature of a product they‘d just placed in their trolley: the price of the item.

Human beings think with their feelings and emotions. Our instincts reach out and somehow feel what seems good for our souls, or bad.

Human decision-making is emotional, spiritual, political and, perhaps least of all, rational. The truth is, we aren’t really rational beings.

We are more human than that. In his On Equilibrium, Canadian author John Ralston Saul explains that human action thought naturally tries to balance six “qualities”: Common sense, ethics, imagination, intuition, memory and the, lastly, reason.

On average, in a supermarket, this process takes about 12 seconds. And, in 85% of purchases, only the chosen brand is handled.

You reach out for the one you love. I use these wide ranging references to contrast with marketing’s ongoing addiction to heartless rationality, which seems to me to be often out of step with the way consumers live their lives.

Marketing’s reliance on logic and minutely reasoned, feature-filled advertising has created a disconnection between brands and real people.

“Management concerns are relatively narrow – relative, that is, to life, knowledge and possibility,” Wrote Don Watson in Death Sentence – The Decay of Public Language.

Client executives often think that emotion is wishy-washy and, worse, rules out hard sell creative. This is not right.

Selling emotion to clients is a tough business. Marketing, after all, is a process-driven occupation.

The UK creative powerhouse, BBH, found a way of building emotion into the process by moving away from the reason-centric, fact-focussed Unique Selling Proposition (USP),to the Emotional Selling proposition (ESP) and have produced some landmark work throughout the last decade.

The ESP allows advertising to more persuasively sell the idea of the brand, rather than the mere product itself.

In 1983, Andrex was lost for words. It led the British toilet tissue market and was one of the most valuable grocery brands in the country.

All was, not rosy, however. A competitor had come out with a marvelously soft product, a product that people loved when they tried it, a product that delighted the fingers and caressed the posterior.

Andrex was vulnerable, and the brand’s owners knew it. But Andrex stood to lose a rational argument, hands down.

A look back at the television advertising for Andrex in 1983 and 1981 will show a playful Labrador puppy running joyfully through a series of seasonal adventures with a train of toilet tissue billowing behind it.

The puppy gambols through daffodils, frolics on the beach, and bursts through piles of autumn leaves.

In the most famous spot, he slides onto a frozen pond and plays with a goose. These spots are off the scale on the “aah” factor.

Sure, the product looks as soft and strong as ever, but the star of the show is the puppy. He plucks irresistibly at our heartstrings.

By tapping blatantly into the emotions of the British housewife, Andrex saw off the competitive challenge until it could launch an improved product.

Instead of slashing prices or employing other desperate measures, the brand’s marketers sensibly decided to milk the appeal of the brand’s spokesman for all the little fellow was worth.

This worked so well that the brand’s sales were extremely buoyant during this time of danger.

What’s more, every Christmas for years afterward, a small Labrador puppy could be seen on British TV screens, sliding onto a frozen pond and playing with a goose.

Ask any focus group about Andrex and warm emotional words will come tumbling out. Quite an achievement for a toilet tissue.

The same is true of many of the world’s greatest brands. Even in a research situation, it’s occasionally possible to see people’s eyes moisten slightly when they talk about the promise offered by Nike’s vision of empowerment through sport, or Apple’s celebration of independent thinking, or even Coke’s hilltop depiction of global harmony.

Singapore Airlines transports us into a highly evocative, long-running dream. De Beers has made its product a potent symbol of undying love. Huggies induces parents to coo at their endearingly happy babies.

Of course not all successful brands harness “big” emotions like these. But generally speaking, they conjure up a tightly defined emotional space that is very appealing and goes far beyond the brand’s rational story.

Even a brand that appears quite rational may be offering something deeper. The tremendous success of BMW in Britain was built on imagery that, despite to be seeming cold, tapped into powerful emotions of power, success and control.

In the 1980s, Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s idea of the “emotional selling proposition” recognized the importance of this emotional space.

Even science supports the importance of emotion in branding. In 2002, the Department of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, published a study on how well people recognize certain words.

It showed that the right side of the brain, the emotional side, played a bigger role in processing brand names than it did in processing emotion is fundamental to the very concept of branding.

The skilled way in which modern brands use emotion is all the more remarkable when one considers traditional corporate culture.

Yes, the value of brands is understood to a greater degree than ever before, and many companies now talk about sustainability rather than short-term obsession with the bottom line. But the business world is still generally more comfortable with facts than emotions.

After all, in the last decade, a concept known as “fact-based management” became quite popular.

This sounds very uninspiring, but it’s certainly easier for a CEO to defend than “emotion-based management.”

Business leaders are not expected to behave in a highly emotional fashion not too often, anyway.

Instead, they need to spend much of their time obsessing over quite rational things like product quality, product functionality and product improvement.

It’s only human nature that they often wish to see the results of this dedication communicated to their potential customers.

It’s the default position, and it’s defensible in the inherently anti-emotion culture of senior management. As Mark Twain said, “It is easier to manufacture seven facts than one emotion.”

However, set against this are some powerful trends which favour a more emotional approach.

First, the erosion of functional product differences has been widely documented, and even where they exist, the gaps can be closed in a matter of months or even weeks.

This naturally leads many brands to attempt to build a more emotional connection that is less vulnerable to an innovative competitor.

Secondly, emotions provide cut-through. In his book The power of simplicity, Jack Trout pointed out that the average manager now reads a million words a week, and refers to theories that the Baby Boomer generation is suffering significant memory loss as a result of sheer information overload.

There might be some other reasons, but that’s another topic. A few years ago, the research firm BASES reduced is predictions for the amount of awareness that could be generated by a given advertising spend.

It’s just not that easy to get noticed any more. In an information-saturated world, there’s lot to be said for by passing clogged mental highways and going direct to the heart.

And there’s so much data around that it’s easy for people to post-rationalize buying decisions that are actually grounded mainly in emotion.

Finally, the sustained success of several brands with a high emotional component to their success has simple led to a greater understanding of the power of emotion to deliver healthy financial f\returns.

A fly on the wall of any meeting room in corporate America would hear people saying they want to “do a Nike”, “a Starbucks” or “an Apple.”

They may not mean that they would like to imitate those companies in very respect, but they would like to imitate those companies in every respect, but they would kill for the emotional equity in those brands.

Even a brand with a hideous reputation for product quality can retain such emotional equity that it can be successfully reinvented: just ask the owners of Triumph Motorcycles.

Of course many brands develop emotional equity without necessarily doing emotional advertising.

Starbucks spends comparatively little on advertising, but its in-store experience is carefully planned to set off the right emotional triggers.

Most brands need to rely more heavily on advertising, or at least on the broad discipline of marketing communications, to build emotional bonds.

In Britain, the IPA Effectiveness Awards have encouraged particularly rigorous analysis of the effects of communications, and the real, hard-headed financial value of emotionally driven campaigns has been proven time and time again by brands as diverse as Tesco, Orange, and Andrex itself.

But hang on a minute. It can’t be as easy as that, can it? No, it’s not, unfortunately. For one thing, our competitors probably have had the same idea.

But more importantly, the real people we are trying to influence are not always reaching out desperately for our brand’s little bundle of emotions.

Enough has been written about the sophistication of modern consumers and their ability to decode and avoid every device of marketing, should they so wish.

This is no longer just a phenomenon of the most advanced markets either. Siemens launched its Xelibri phone with an ironic campaign poking fun at modern technology mass-marketing and carrying the strapline “That’s so tomorrow.”

It generated interest not just in the expected places, but also in the leading cities of China, despite their relatively recent exposure to modern marketing methods.

And in the most developed markets, even irony is no longer enough. The American middle-class adoption of blue-collar brands and attitudes is simultaneously ironic and respectful: We have entered the post ironic age.

This context has made life more difficult for brands appealing through emotion. They are searching for connections with a more elusive consumer, through a communication fog of irony, self-reference and quirky humor.

In a world where much advertising was quite rational, it was easier to stand out by using pure “big” emotions such as sex excitement or the cuteneness of children and animals.

All these can still work, but they are received in a more skeptical environment.
Some brands have successfully reacted to this by developing campaigns, and a personality, that do not overtly use emotion in an easily described way, and yet are clearly not rational either.

A successful print campaign for diesel is based on the premise of bizarre market research conducted by the company.

It uses emotion in that it makes us smile, but the humor is carefully modulated. If we think about it enough, we can figure out that it’s meant to make diesel users look like knowing, savvy people, far too intelligent to be fooled by the ludicrous methods of the marketing world.

There’s emotion there, but it’s a far cry from the toned sexuality of Nick Kamen sitting in his underwear for Levi’s in the mid-1980s.

Another development is that some brands have successfully adopted a much less predictable approach to using emotion.

Their tonality is not one-dimensional, or necessarily consistent, but somehow all feels as if it’s all coming from the same place.

The voice of the defining modern brand is not mono, stereophonic or even quadraphonic: it’s polyphonic, like that new church organ-like ringbone on your mobile phone.

It’s a carefully arranged collection of emotional triggers that keeps you engaged, and adds up to a complex personality that feels real and interesting.

Everywhere you look, there is evidence of the search for authenticity, massively demonstrated over the last few years by the demand for retro and vintage clothing, polyphonic brands often feel more authentic because they feel more like real people, with a variety of moods and ways of talking.
The mother of all polyphonic brands is Nike, which has encompassed an astonishing diversity of emotions in its advertising while still talking in an inimitably Nike way.

Raw excitement, tear-jerking inspiration, sophisticated and unsophisticated humor, tranquil beauty, and sheer irreverence have all played a part in Nike communications over the years.

Yet, generally, you know when it’s Nike talking to you and not someone else. There is a clear underlying attitude that has been imitated by many, but never consistently captured by any other brand.

This raises interesting questions for advertisers. How can they manage the process of developing a powerful polyphonic brand, which generates strong relationships by many, but never consistently captured by any other brand.

This raises interesting questions for advertisers. How can they manage the process of developing a powerful polyphonic brand, which generates strong relationships by using a rich palette of emotions?

The best way, of course, is if those who work with the brand have an instinctive understanding of what the brand really stands for.

Nike’s powerful voice has not been formed primarily by any single brand manual that dictates the emotional tone of the brand’s contact with consumers.

Instead, there is a hugely strong corporate culture built in part by an amazing oral tradition, which gives people who work at or for Nike a pretty good chance to get what Nike is about.

Powerful emotional advertising for a brand tends to emerge when people feel what the brand is about, rather than do it by the manual.

It’s a lot easier for this to happen when the corporate culture, the emotional heart of the company, clearly contains an essence that real people find appealing.

Otherwise we may end up as Scott Bedbury puts it, “putting lipstick on a pig.” In recent years fewer advertising people have promised that advertising can solve every problem, and more stress has been put on the need to develop the right internal culture as well as the right communications.

But what if the company is still a little pig-like? After all, most companies are really not that interesting to ordinary people, and many still carry a hint of curly tail.

Not every corporation can be as intuitive as Nike, Virgin or Diesel, but they still need to build storing, emotional bonds with their customers.

One response to this task is when a group of those working with the brand come together for a session to try and capture its emotional essence.

In days gone by, this might have entailed going to a nice hotel in the countryside, decompressing, bonding and generally getting into a suitable state of mind.

In a strict financial climate, this can often be seen as indulgent, so many “Offsets” now take place onsite, in colorless conference rooms decorated by corporate art carrying inspiring symbols of teamwork or leadership.

Part of the output of these sessions may be a set of guidelines for the brand’s values and personality, often arranged in a circle or a box. The list of words usually looks something like this:

Warm Witty (not slapstick)

This list goes down pretty well internally, and may be approved by consumers in research.

It’s difficult to argue with, and that’s exactly the problem. It’s incredibly bland. Consider for a moment a brand that demonstrated exactly the opposite qualities, a brand that was;

Humourless (despite occasional forays into slapstick)

No one has launched this brand, or ever will (although I for one would buy it, if only because it sounds a lot more interesting than the first one).

This reveals that many of the words most commonly used to define brand “personality” simply don’t.

They are just obvious. This often becomes apparent when the “personality” gets illustrated on a video “essence taper” using found footage, cut together to a rousing piece of music which on one (except Microsoft) could ever afford to use in real piece of advertising.

The results are all too often spectacularly wishy-washy. Personality and emotional richness have been eliminated, rather than enhanced.

To avoid this, those working with brands need to fight very hard t weed out the predictable or generic.

We need to allow more individual, creative interpretations of a brand’s personality to emerge, which are not driven by the need to achieve easy consensus.

We need to use visual and aural references that feel right, rather than just illustrating a list of words.

And overall, we need to allow emotions and intuition to play a bigger part in the process, since the very thing we are trying to create is itself emotional.

All these are difficult in the normal course of things, but the prize, a well-defined emotional brand space, is enormously valuable.

Even if we achieve this, there may still be trouble ahead. Speed of communication, the availability of vast amounts of data on any subject, and the constantly evolving sensibilities of the people we are talking to mean that some level of rational underpinning needs to be available, even if it is not overt.

If there’s too big a disconnect, problems occur. At one level, the communications may simply cease to work: people may applaud the brand and like the brand for how it talks to them, but simply ignore e it because their own experiences do not support the spin.

More seriously, a brand which has forged powerful emotional bonds with its audience is held up to the most stringent standards.

If hell hath n fury like a woman scorned, the marketing world hath no fury like a loyal consumer scorned.

The very power of Nike’s emotional bonds with the American public has made it a tempting target for attack over its labour practices.

Direct marketers know that some of the best customers are those who have complained and been satisfied: the disappointment of loyal customers is equally potent.

Nevertheless, the power of an emotionally driven relationship does not dissipate overnight and, by being seen to address those concerns over time, Nike has recaptured the lost ground.

When we say someone “is a bit emotional right now,” We mean it partly as a warning.  We are sending a message that “you may find dealing with this person a little difficult right now.” Emotions are not always easy for people to deal with, and the same is true for brands.

It’s easy to make emotional advertising that is patronizing, or generic, or unbelievable, or just plain nauseating.

For brands, emotion brings responsibility as well as power. So it’s easy to back off and fall back on advertising that appears to sell the product really well, And makes good sense in the boardroom when presented after the quarterly budget. But the you won’t have a puppy on your side when the going gets tough, will you?

 Keywords: emotional selling, advertising, ad, ads,


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