“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I’ve discussed that communication is essentially about stimulus-response. I’ve pointed out that communication planning should start with “what do we want the audience to remember/understand?” instead of “what do we want to say?” Lastly, I’ve elaborated the steps to determine the best desired response.
In the classic (or traditional?) school of communication planning, the next chapter will normally be about the stimulus. Nevertheless, by going directly to this part I will perpetuate the common and fatal mistake in communication strategy: overlooking the importance of planning the emotional response.
I often make this mistake. You can see the evidence from my previous posts. The starting point I emphasized is “what do we want the audience to remember or understand?” not “what do we want the audience to feel?” Consequently, all of my examples are all about cognitive response, i.e. response in the form of belief, knowledge, or perception about something or a brand.
I’m not trying to excuse myself, but I need to explain why I’m making this mistake.
This common mistake comes from a very established dogma in advertising that teaches, “effective advertising is persuasive advertising”. The “ancestor” of this school can be traced back to Rosser Reeves’ concept of advertising as the vehicle to put across unique selling proposition. Its underlying assumption is that to change behavior, we must change the attitude first.
The dogma of “effective advertising is persuasive advertising” has been facing serious challenges[i]:
- There is little evidence to support the idea that advertising is capable of changing attitudes
- Consumers’ attitudes towards brands generally do not change over time, in spite of the vast amount of advertising they are exposed to
- Attitudes only have a weak influence on future behavior
- Consumers’ beliefs about their brands are similar across brands
- Although overall brand attitudes are steady over time, when they change, it’s after the behavior has changed before
A major market research company has painstakingly analyzed television commercials that won marketing effectiveness awards (PA Effectiveness Awards from 1996 to 2010, Effies from 2007 to 2010) and creativity awards (Cannes Lions from 2002 to 2011)[ii]. It reconfirms that persuasion is not necessary for effective advertising. Advertising can deliver marketing objectives even without persuasive messages.
Why is the model of Advertising-Attitude-Behavior faulty? Because it is based on a wrong assumption, i.e. human being are always rational and thus will conduct deliberate, extensive evaluation during the buying process. In reality we don’t do that. We will take the minimum possible time to make buying decisions. For some categories, it may take one or two seconds.[iii]
So what’s the alternative? Many studies have come up with evidence supporting this new model[iv]:
In the salience model, advertising builds and reinforces consumers’ memories about a brand.
Brands are not stored as processed, thought-through constructs. Rather they are made up of often-unprocessed groups of associations that consist of feelings, images, sounds, fragments of experience, as well as some abstracted knowledge[v].
Imagine a network where a ‘node’ holds a piece of information (let’s say Rolex). If two nodes are associated (like Rolex with champions), we say that there is a link between the two nodes. The nodes and the links will build the brand’s memory structure.
The brand’s memory structure is developed and refreshed through experiences such as buying or using the brand, word of mouth, and exposure to advertising.
The more extensive and fresher the brand’s memory structure, the higher its salience, and the higher its chance to be thought of in the variety of buying situations.
The dominant way that advertising work is by (occasionally) building and refreshing brands’ memory structure. This is how advertising contributes to brands’ salience.
So how do emotions in advertising help increase brand salience?
- Since human beings are predisposed to notice emotionally charged event, we will be more likely to notice and pay attention to emotionally charged advertising[vi]
- Emotions in advertising raise our level of attention. The higher the attention, the stronger the signals that pass from one node to another, and the more permanent the engrams become[vii]
- Emotions in advertising can help the emotions transfer to the brand, shaping the brand associations[viii]
Millward Brown’s analysis on effectiveness and creativity award-winning ads reveals that many of those ads evoked very strong emotional responses within the audience. There is no one emotion to trigger for successful advertising. Rather, successful ads trigger emotion that is relevant for the brands.
What’s the implication?
- The question of “What do we want the audience to remember?” should always come together with “What do we want the audience to feel?”
- Rather than asking, “what should be the tone and manner of the communication piece?” it’s more useful to ask, “Which dominant emotion should the audience feel when seeing the communication piece?”
- We should carefully and rigorously find the link between the communication objective, the desired cognitive (brand association) response, and the desired emotional response.
I personally think the last implication is the hardest part. Firstly, we have to have a set of mutually agreed vocabulary of emotions. A simple Google search will show you that different theorists offer different lists of emotions (see below). Once we agree on which list we use, how will we agree on the exact nuance of one particular emotion?
Secondly, what’s the best method to determine the right emotions? Do we base it on the communication objective and/or the desired cognitive response? Do we wait until we have the creative theme or idea, and then try to figure out the best emotion to evoke with that idea?
Let’s see a reversed-engineered example from P&G. I won’t be surprised if brief was something like “we will be the sponsor of London Olympics, please make something so consumers know about it and they will somehow like us more”. The cognitive desired response amongst the target audience (mothers) is probably, “P&G appreciates us”. The desired emotional response is perhaps proud (Ortony’s), or joy (Plutchik’s), or devotion (Spinoza’s), or affectionate (Millward Brown’s classification).
Another example is from the famous TVC for Volkswagen Passat. I think the ad deliberately leaves out desired cognitive response (persuasion). I salute the clients who approved an ad focusing solely on the feel-good factor to the brand. I wonder whether the creative brief specified the desired emotional response, let’s say joy (Ortony’s) or love (Plutchick’s).
What about negative emotions? My example is “Truth” campaign in early 2000, whose main objective is to prevent youth in Florida, USA, from starting a smoking habit. The desired cognitive response amongst youth is “not smoking is an act of rebellion against deceitful tobacco companies”[ix] What should be the desired emotional response? If the emotion is to be directed at the tobacco companies, should it be anger, disgust, or hatred?
So what’s the best way to choose the most optimum emotional response? Is it a part of a planner’s job, or shall we leave it to the creative team? If it’s a planner job (I believe we should propose desired emotional response to the creative team, not prescribing it), what should be the approach?
Perhaps if we have a clear objective that’s related to change in behavior, we’ll be able to map that behavior into the right emotions —after all, emotions drive behavior.
What if the objective is about building or refreshing associations to the brand? We know Coca Cola wants to be associated with happiness, so we always try to elicit the emotions of joy, ecstasy, or warm and fuzzy in every piece of its communication.
Yet I suspect only few brands make clear decisions on the kind of emotions they want to be associated with. Most brands probably have chosen adjectives to be filled in under the column of “brand personality” or “brand characters”. These adjectives —sometimes they are chosen via thousand hours of hairsplitting and navel-gazing— prescribe how a brand should behave. However, this is not the same at all with guiding what kind of emotions a brand must make the consumers feel. The latter, of course, is what matters more.
Do you have any thoughts about how to go about determining the desired emotional response in communication, dear readers? Please be generous enough to share them here.
[i] Leighton, Jane Ads must be memorable, not persuasive, to influence choice Admap, February 2009, Issue 502
[ii] Twose, Dominic and Polly Wyn Jones Creative effectiveness Admap, November 2011
[iii] Millward Brown Knowledge Point Should My Advertising Stimulate an Emotional Response? August 2010
[iv] Sharp, Byron How Brands Grow Oxford 2011
[v] Page, Graham The emotional drivers of advertising success – real answers, practical tools ESOMAR September 2005
[vi] op. cit. Millward Brown Knowledge Point, 2010
[vii] Riley, MT A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips Admap May 2010
[viii] op. cit. Millward Brown Knowledge Point, 2010
[ix] Hicks, Jeffrey J. The Strategy Behind Florida’s “truth” Campaign http://www.tobaccofreedom.org/msa/articles/truth_review.html