The difference between evoking an emotion and a call to action

Each fortnight in Encore Adam Ferrier poses a question related to the media, marketing and entertainment industry.Adam Ferrier

Movies, films and television commercials have long been the masters of evoking an emotion. 

Wonderful. In fact I remember once being so stirred up after seeing the Muhammad Ali documentary When We Were Kings that I refused to go to the pub afterwards for a beer with my mates as I was so inspired to get fit. My friend then twisted my rubber arm and off to the pub we went. The emotion created by a nice piece of film (whether it be 30 seconds or three hours) has an incredibly short half life – it dissipates into nothing very quickly.

If the power of emotion is to get people to act then film doesn’t seem to be overly effective as rarely do we ask people to do anything with that emotion, and by the time we do the emotional engagement created has long disappeared.

My question is: ‘How can we use the emotion-evoking medium of film to actually drive action? Whether it be a TVC using emotion to generate a sale, or a film on human rights wanting people to respect difference – what can we add, subtract or lose from film content to get people to act?’

Adam Ferrier is a consumer psychologist and the founder of Naked Communications. Got an answer for Adam’s question? Email it to

Encore issue 5

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  1. The Million $ Man
    11 Mar 13
    10:42 am

  2. Adam, very nice question. I think that Kony did the best job of turning emotion from film into action (engaging via social media), what let this campaign down was the next step in the cause – the actual rallies which we organised though not for sometime after the launch of the campaign. Furthermore there was little done to drive emotion / engagement / action post the original film content.

  3. shamma
    11 Mar 13
    5:02 pm

  4. I think KONY is an example of what Adam is talking about – it stirred emotion and no meaningful action. Action is not a one click share, it’s a sustained, concerted effort.

    I get the feeling Adam knows the answer to this question anyway, given he studied psychology. Behaviour change is an outcome from multiple things – from the initial emotion eliciting material, to the importance of the area, to the persons belief they can do it etc etc.

  5. Rich
    11 Mar 13
    5:20 pm

  6. It could be argued Adam that this has been happening for many years. Maybe less so in recent times, but the implication that emotional film has not resulted in changes of behavior or action is pretty naive.

  7. Jon-Paul Broom
    11 Mar 13
    7:34 pm

  8. Behold the awesomeness of digital and online. I can make a donation or purchase before my evoked emotive state has worn off.

  9. Peter Rush
    12 Mar 13
    2:25 pm

  10. Cliches.
    Cliches kill emotion.
    Ads are full of ’em partly because when you’re telling a story in 30 secs you need them. Open on a haunted castle with bats. I instantly expect ghosts but feel nothing. Open on a derelict coal power station or a container ship. I don’t straight away expect haunted–but when I realise…goosebumps.
    But clients love cliches. Makes them feel comfortable when their ads look like other brands’ ads. In fact, a creative’s constant challenge is to trigger emotion with mandatory cliches supplied . Shiny car on NZ mountain road. Dude biting into a chicken burger “enjoying every tasty mouthful” to quote most YUM scripts.

    I think this isn’t just a bloody good question, this is THE question –and always was. Great agencies are the ones who know or quickly figure out how to trigger emotion – in their times. Like Mo and Jo did. Whether the emotion is being warm and fuzzy, funny or afraid a cliche will kill it stone dead.

  11. Richard Moss
    12 Mar 13
    4:03 pm

  12. Cliché has become confused with Clichéd.

    There is nothing surer than the fact that the cliché is a vital component in the artificial stimulation of emotions. It can be truly stated that the cliched depictions and the cliched images are, indeed, detrimental to the creation of emotion.

    The slicing of a fresh lemon with a very sharp bone handled Sheffield steel knife, will result in the flow of acidic juices; these will blacken the polished steel of the blade and cause a patchy discoloration of the white pith of the skin as the blade passes through the citrus fruit. Saliva will build in the mouth of the beholder.

    Without cliché, we have very little with which to work. Beware however, of the Cliched.

  13. jean cave
    12 Mar 13
    7:49 pm

  14. When I was a teenager . . I was amazed to learn that The German Language had more words to describe specific emotions than any other. I found it hard then, to translate the nuanced stuff in the movies with my brain drenched in hormone.
    Now when I watch a movie, I get shed-loads of stored reference popping up which often creates an enriched texture to the experience. There is joy in recognition . . I am still feeling something.

  15. Ryan Northover
    13 Mar 13
    12:08 am

  16. The ‘Harlem Shake’ dancing meme is the closest thing I’ve seen of late.
    Create something awesome (but easy to replicate) and encourage others to construct their own version.

  17. Vote 1
    13 Mar 13
    9:39 am

  18. This is something political campaigns have been doing for decades.

  19. Anonymous
    14 Mar 13
    9:55 am

  20. If you are affected emotionally and don’t act immediately, it doesn’t mean you won’t later.

  21. babita baruah
    15 Mar 13
    7:16 pm

  22. I feel emotions can convert into sales if the product is at the core of the story. The product promise. In which case we cannot react just to the emotion, but to what sparked off that emotion. Someone above said political campaigns do it all the time. That is because the “promise” is at the heart of the campaign.

    The second thing is to create an urge to do something. The Economist launched a campaign #JoyOfReading a couple of days back, in Once I saw the campaign on youtube, which is an engagement captured alive and then aired, I couldn’t help going to the site, where I actually created a video for my mum. I don’t think I have ever spent so much time with any brand engagement.

    It was the emotion of the campaign- Thanking the person who taught you to read- that got me, but at every point, the brand held my hand and urged me to act.

    That’s where I think the difference lies.

  23. Ando
    18 Mar 13
    11:50 pm

  24. I’ve just read every comment above and became more and more certain by the end that each and every one of you is whacked out on drugs.

  25. jean cave
    19 Mar 13
    6:20 pm

  26. @ando
    Not me . . I can do this stuff completely drug-free.