Rationalising The Emotional

Quick Read: At one end we have ads with heavy emotional messaging and at the other we have those with hardcore rational, persuasive messaging. And then there are those that make interesting attempts at occupying the space in between.  

My contention is that truly great advertising does something far more important than deliver a rational message, and far more important than entertain: what it does is to establish associations. (Heath, 2002)

Seducing the Subconscious is an acclaimed book by Robert Heath on how advertising works. A key argument that he makes in this book is that the best advertising actually works through emotive as opposed to persuasive messaging, and emotional content is processed most efficiently at low levels of attention, not high.

Read this great post by Steve Genco for a more detailed commentary on Heath’s theory. He says..

..a substantial body of research has shown that emotional associations established at low levels of attention lead to longer-lasting influences on attitudes and behavior than rational arguments (i.e., traditional persuasion).

This is because they facilitate the memory activation mechanism of recognition rather than recall.  Recall requires effort, fades relatively quickly, and has to be reinforced regularly.  But recognition is triggered effortlessly and lasts indefinitely.  So recognition, unlike recall, is more likely to result from low attention processing.

(So the thumb rule?) Combine a brand with an emotionally engaging ad, repeat the association under low attention conditions like TV watching, and you will get both recognition and a favorable default attitude toward your brand.

That’s probably why the new John Lewis ad works. And that’s probably why we have attempts at advertising like this one for Obsession by CK.

While this ad and its iconic print campaign by Robert R. Taylor are said to be some of the most memorable advertisements of all time, it is also billed by many as “the ultimate in abstract and meaningless advertising”. (source)

Arguably it does take a strategic leap of faith for a marketer to ride on just emotion and disband the century old model of ‘rational’ or ‘persuasive’ messaging that much of marketing communication still cleaves to. So it’s not uncommon to see many ads that – while narrating an emotional story – also ensure they rationalise it and close the spot with a persuasive messaging for the viewer.

Interestingly, almost as if to exemplify the above point, Pfister‘s new ad on its touch free range of faucets called REACT takes a dig at ‘Obsession’-isque narratives by attempting to unwrap the enveloped message for us.

Talk about rationalising the emotional.

(H/T this nytimes report)

(Featured Image: React Faucet by Pfister)

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