Is too much emotion making our advertising sad?

Tugging heartstrings isn’t always the best way to advertise.

The headline reads: “Emotional ads will lead to more sales.”

The first line reads: “Advertisements that elicit a strong emotional response will deliver an increase in sales.”

See what’s happened there? The obvious requirement of advertising to elicit some form of response got magically transformed into a divine directive for all ads to be emotional.

Sadly, this is merely symptomatic of the marketing industry’s perpetual but misguided mission to draw a distinction between emotional (good) and rational (bad) advertising. Here, emotional means funny, enjoyable, dramatic, colourful, with more feelings than facts. In fact it can mean pretty much anything, as long as it looks more like pure entertainment than anything so prosaic as an ad.

Not surprisingly, therefore, this misconception is being propagated all day, every day; in creative brainstormings, boardrooms, research debriefs, conferences and the trade press.

Here’s another one: people act and make decisions emotionally, not rationally. The threat (I’d like to say unspoken, but sadly repeated ad nauseam) being, if your advertising isn’t emotional enough to appeal to those all-powerful feelings, it will fail.

Great advertising should engage both sides of our incredibly complex brains.

It’s quite sad really that most adults’ image of their own biology doesn’t get much more detailed than the illustrated children’s game ‘Operation.’ The brain has two hemispheres, one rational, one emotional and all decisions get made by one side or the other. Amazing to think marketing “academics” get paid to spout this stuff. The brain is a maze of neurons and electrochemical signals. We know about as much about its inner workings it as we know about the furthest reaches of space or our deepest ocean beds. Our actions can be rational, emotional, instinctual or, most of the time, an irrational mix of all three.

We can respond rationally, emotionally or instinctually to both emotional and rational communications. We do not need to see emotion to respond emotionally. We can respond emotionally to facts and rationally to emotions. There’s little emotion in a stone-faced policeman informing you of the death of a loved one, but inconsolable sorrow in response. Conversely a teary child with a scraped knee may trigger the instinctive reaction of antiseptic and a band aid, and a stern rational lesson on the dangers of skateboarding downstairs.

The problem is, it’s not just 21 year old sub editors who’ve been indoctrinated. The rot goes all the way to the top. One of the country’s most senior marketers at one of the biggest brands was recently quoted as saying: “an opportunity to create more emotional advertising and market to women.” Aside from the politically questionable undertone of such a statement  (What? Women are more emotional so they need even more emotional advertising?! ), the resulting work is confusing, patronising, superficial and has very little relevance to the product or why anyone would buy it.

It’s what gives rise to campaigns like the latest BUPA commercial . If ever there was an example of why Clients shouldn’t try to write their own ads, this is it. ‘Little Moments Matter’ with a hackneyed video montage of “cute” family moments, featuring BUPA’s own staff – overflowing with emotion in the conceptualisation, skin crawling in the execution, but what on earth does it all have to do with buying health insurance?

Or how’s this from Transport for NSW telling regional drivers the road is “no place for excuses.” I have no idea where this convoluted bit of thinking came from (or, for that matter, why the world needs yet another driving safety advertisement, as if all the thousands of others wouldn’t work just as well). But the real irony here is that the press release quotes the Minister as stating: “If you live in the country you are 4 times more likely to die in a road crash.”

Four times!!!! More likely to die! Now that’s a fact.

That’s going to make me sit up and think. But where’s that in the commercial? Nowhere to be seen amongst the 60 seconds of soulful looking country people regretting their, apparently, inexcusably bad driving habits. Wouldn’t want to interrupt the emotion with anything so crass as a hard hitting fact.

Our actions can be rational, emotional, instinctual or, most of the time, an irrational mix of all three.

Excuse us while we continue to drive exactly the same way.

It’s a world gone even madder in the ridiculous quest for ever more emotion and entertainment and ever less product and reasons to purchase it.

And it’s the clients and their brands who are suffering, as agencies indoctrinate them into spending considerable sums of money trying to compete on an uneven playing field with Hollywood, Netflix, YouTube and all the other entertainment experts.

It shouldn’t be about the ad. It should be about giving people very good reasons to buy whatever it is you’re selling and making it relevant so that consumers can relate. The reality is: facts, news and information can elicit just as much of an “emotional” response and engagement when presented in the right way –  and a lot more sales.

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Is too much emotion making our advertising sad?
Is too much emotion making our advertising sad?
Is too much emotion making our advertising sad?
Is too much emotion making our advertising sad?