You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

As recaps of this year’s AMA conference continue to be published, one major takeaway has been the importance of using emotion in our marketing and communication efforts. Whether it’s an appeal to true human connections, emotional branding, storytelling or describing our business as a business of inspiration, emotion as a communications objective is ubiquitous—even outside our industry. 

Emotion grabs our attention. We process emotion automatically. In its most extreme, it can elicit a powerful response, but it can also be processed beneath conscious awareness. In both cases, we relate it in some way to our past. However, we have come to the conclusion that our work must be overly emotional and kept firmly outside the realm of the rational. I think it is important to further explore what exactly is an emotional response and to try and understand how emotion and rational thought can work together. 

Everything is Emotional

Everything we encounter creates an emotional response—even ads. And while the inspirational messaging may create awareness of how the communication has made one feel, we cannot neglect the fact that we must trigger a conscious response. We must move from attention to memory. In a sense, emotional responses must be attached to memory structures to become stored as a lasting memory. As marketers, it is our job to illicit a response that creates, shapes or reinforce lasting memory. 

As Erik du Plessis wrote in The Advertised Mind, creating an overwhelmingly emotional ad without developing memory structures is fleeting, or simply transient. To maximize impact, there needs to be particular attention paid to how attention is focused and how the response will relate to our brand. For example, in Volkswagen’s famous Darth Vader Super Bowl ad, the car is the hero, as it plays a role in fulfilling the child’s fantasy of using of The Force. The consumer either responds to the child’s disbelief or the impact the parent has on contributing to the fantasy. 

Emotion has Valence 

We must also remember that there are different levels of emotion. Not all marketing must create tears or cause fear. Most responses are rooted in past experiences. The simple reinforcement of memory-triggering responses, no matter the level of emotion, will have lasting influence on moments when the consumer reaches for a category or creates an entirely new category entry point. Consider Coca-Cola: one of Coke’s current campaigns pairs Coke with strongly associated food in moments that bring people together. The goal is to reinforce the pairings and moments, so associations are accessible when a consumer buys the food—and hopefully Coke along with it.

Crossing the Chasm

It seems that we have talked ourselves into believing that persuasion or rationale is no longer effective–perhaps simply not exciting enough. Emotion and rational thought do not have to be binary. When we create this divide we create a belief that we can never cross the chasm into rational persuasion, and in an effort to create a strong emotional response, our communication removes the focus from our brand and message we hope to convey. We focus on the “tears” or “fears” and neglect the need to have the brand involved in this delivery. In both cases, it’s not a zero-sum game. We either end up with a strong emotional story and in the last second end with the logo, or pack every product benefit into one 30-second spot and loose anything that is distinctive (cue most higher ed commercials). 

A Likely Duo

Rational persuasion and emotion can work in tandem. In fact, we often post-rationalize our consumption behavior. Facts and functional benefits help reinforce a consumer’s emotional response or act as a motivator for consumption-related goals. Similarly, if we are doing our job throughout the customer journey we can take more creative latitude with important but non-emotional messaging. Our OOH executions (banners, digital signage, etc.) can play a pivotal role in shaping preference as students establish “fit” on our campus tours. The connections prospective students make as they tour our campus can be strengthened if we communicate important value-based messages, or rational signals, that reinforce the emotional triggers from an impactful tour. 

Consider All Touch Points

We should also be reminded that the entire customer experience impacts emotional responses to our communications. From campus tours to word-of-mouth, our marketing mix adds to the memory structures we create. It’s the main reason why direct-to-consumer brands like Dollar Shave Club and Casper must compete on functional benefits first. They cannot capitalize on a portfolio of past experiences for customers to pull from. Brands like Coke, John Lewis and Budweiser do and we can see how they are able to strip most functional benefits from their communications. 

In Eat Your Greens, Phil Barden provides a checklist to guide your next creative brief:

  • Does the communication evoke an emotional response?
  • Does the brand/product play an important role in the ad?
  • Does the brand play an instrumental role in a credible way?
  • Does it leverage the brand’s iconic assets to ensure correct brand assignment?

In conclusion, emotion in our messaging is important. However, a clearer construct of emotion will help develop better methods of employing it in our storytelling as well as developing the important link between that response and our brand. 

Christopher Huebner is assistant director for online presence at the University of South Carolina.