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Where is the love? Injecting emotion back into marketing – and doing it right

Technology & Data

Where is the love? Injecting emotion back into marketing – and doing it right


Have marketers forgotten about the heartstrings? Or are they too afraid to pull the wrong ones? Sam Walters says Australian marketing needs a healthy dose of emotion.

Sam Walters 150 BW

As Plato said, “Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge” – and when it comes to advertising, this mindset is crucial. Make me laugh. Move me. Inspire me. Motivate me. In this cluttered digital world where one quarter of Australians actively use an ad blocker, emotional connection is key.

Emotion absolutely matters in advertising

UK department store John Lewis knows this better than most. Each year, its Christmas campaign goes straight for the emotional jugular. In 2018, its ‘More Than Just a Gift’ ad featuring Elton John went viral (as did all its previous Christmas ads).

It’s an emotionally charged creative that (literally) looks back at the music legend’s journey from the present to when his mum bought him his first piano as a little boy. This emotional storytelling style is further complemented by the overlay of his hit single ‘Your Song’.

UK supermarket chain Iceland also nailed emotion. It used the Greenpeace ‘Rang Tan’ film to draw attention to an environmental cause – the story of an orangutan losing its home and family. This is one 100% pure emotional storytelling.



Are you welling up yet?


Exception or the rule?

According to research from Kantar, globally only 38% of ads use storytelling as a technique, with the majority focusing on more rational messaging. Given people are actively avoiding advertising, marketers must aim to strike the right balance between creating emotional impressions and delivering a product message.

Ads adopting emotional routes have a better chance of breaking through the brain’s filters. Emotional cues are often processed automatically and are a powerful contributor to the essence of an ad – even if people are only engaged superficially. We pay more attention to emotionally powerful events and this makes them more memorable. So, advertising that makes us feel something is more likely to be remembered.

Utilising neuroscience techniques such as facial coding and intuitive associations to understand implicit emotional response to brands and advertising is today crucial to success. Ads that are remembered will likely drive both a short-term and long-term response. If we take the John Lewis ad, it strikes an emotional chord – even if you’re not a fan of Elton – because it tells such an earnest, engaging story that leaves you with positive impressions about the John Lewis brand.


Emotion and gender

People love to laugh, but many marketers are missing the punchline

A powerful finding from Kantar’s AdReaction 2019 study is that we aren’t delivering emotion as effectively across the genders. Humour remains a trustworthy tool when it comes to emotion, but incredibly, just one quarter of ads featuring only women use comedy compared to half containing only males – and yet humour works especially well in connecting with both genders.

Despite being a core driver of creative success among both males and females, marketers are missing an opportunity to engage females with humour. Re-addressing a balance like this can open brands up to more engaging and positive experience for all viewers.


Avoiding reinforcement of stereotypes drives emotion

Kantar’s AdReaction found just 8% of APAC ads show women as ‘authoritative’, yet ads led by authoritative female characters outperform all other ads. In particular, they generate more expressiveness (measured via facial coding), which leads to short-term sales boosts – a 26% sales shift for ads that have strong ‘expressiveness’. Again, emotion wins.


No one size fits all

In our increasingly digital world, the reality is almost half of Australians think brand content on social media is not relevant. This is a reminder for us to take the time to really review how we use emotion to connect, regardless of the format.

1. Tell a story

Stories create the opportunity to engage audiences, build memories and provoke emotional and rational responses for brands. The reason John Lewis’ Christmas ads work so well is the combination of all key elements to create an engaging story – they are enjoyable, easy to understand and differentiate the brand.

2. Leverage a tension founded on a human truth

Personal relevance can and will strike a chord with your target audiences. For example, within the financial services sector, Kantar’s 2018 Winning with Women research found financial confidence is lower among women. In its creative, Citibank uses a female lead who is in control of her life (and her finances), aided by her Citibank account. This hooked women and drove strong appeal and affinity for the brand. Likewise, the Always ‘Like a Girl’ series is founded on a universal truth that girls lose confidence when they go through puberty.

The campaign turned this phrase around from an insult to an empowering message. This led to a double-digit growth in brand equity over the course of the campaign.

3. Have a clear product benefit

Engaging people emotionally is not a call to ditch talking about your benefits. We are, after all, still in the business of selling our brands. Clarify your product benefit and how you can leverage this to deliver strong emotional rewards. For example, a good skincare product makes you feel confident, saving money feels good, a delicious meal makes you feel proud of serving it to your family.

Getting the balance right is key. Kantar’s Brand Z global equity database shows that balanced functional and emotional associations are most likely to grow sales. Citibank’s ad serves as an enabler to simplify ‘her’ life and makes her feel secure about her financial position.

4. Factor in your brand’s position on gender

Cater to feminine and masculine needs within the same campaign idea and creative executions and build in time and budget for consistent copy testing, including implicit measurement and gender equality metrics to fully understand the dynamics of emotion. This will help you avoid reinforcing harmful stereotypes and ensure gender portrayals that really connect.

By ‘designing to the edges’ – considering the needs of different groups at each extreme and not by resorting to target the easy default in their commonality – you can create ads that satisfy all.

Sam Walters is head of creative development at Kantar


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Image credit: Fausto García


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