Emotion In Advertising: The Difference Between A Spark And A Backfire

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Emotion can be a powerful catalyst in marketer’s attempts to formulate potent advertising. When properly used, emotions can help facilitate consumers’ understanding and acceptance of an advertising message. Indeed, the successful use of emotion can be the difference between a consumer buying a particular product or service and a consumer revolting against the advertisement.

But which emotions should an advertiser use? Advertisers have an entire range to consider: positive, “feel good” emotions such as happiness and contentment or negative emotions such as fear and anger. On the surface, it might seem sensible that one should always go positive. However, the answer is not that simple. As it turns out, both positive and negative emotions can be effective catalysts in persuasion. To use emotion effectively in advertising, marketers have to consider several elements in the mix to understand what creates a spark versus a backfire.

A first question that brand managers should consider is whether the audience needs or requires an emotional appeal. For some products and services, all the consumer might need to be informed of is the functional benefits. For example, a consumer that is primarily interested in scented shampoo may simply need to know that his favorite brand of shampoo now offers the scent he craves. Or, an individual interested in a new in-home styling kit for her hair may simply need to be informed that L’Oreal has released a new product that works with ease. Put simply, a brand does not always need to elicit emotion in the consumer to produce a desired response.

If a brand manager deems emotion appropriate, the next question is whether to go positive or negative. If the brand goes positive, one key aspect to use positive emotion effectively is to make sure it feels authentic and is true to the brand as opposed to simply feeling disconnected and manipulative. Skillful execution using positive emotions can create a glow for the brand to bask in. Consider Google’s “Parisian love” ad, a love story through a progression of Google searches: Studying abroad in Paris, translation of phrases, finding a church, and how to assemble a crib. The ad, deemed “lovely” by one media critic, was very well liked and received a lot of media attention. Google took a similar tactic with its “Dear Sophie” ad, in which a father writes to his daughter from the earliest moments of her life, using a Gmail account.

In recent years, other brands have successfully embraced emotion and integrated it into their DNA. Examples include Oreo’s 100-Day “Daily Twist” campaign and Cheerios’ Good Goes Around anthem from this summer. These ads are examples of masterful executions that don’t go into the emotional space in a manner than doesn’t befit the brand or what they stand for. Of course, even positive emotional ads that are true to the brand will not resonate with every consumer (e.g., a jilted lover, just before Valentine’s Day, might not find the happiness in a jewelry commercial favorable, no matter how well done it is). But relating to a broad audience puts an ad on strong footing.
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