What is more important, the message or the emotion?

Creatives from across the creative industry speak to Mumbrella's Abigail Dawson about the tension between staying on message and tugging at those all-important heart strings.

In June, Think TV released a study which found adland and Australians agreed “TV was by far the most likely place to find trusted advertising, advertising that would make them feel emotional and advertising that would stick in the memory”.

Defined as a “strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others”, emotional advertising has made many a successful campaign.

And with Ehrenberg Bass research showing 95% of purchasing decisions are made emotionally, is it any wonder that agencies are prone to stray off message when constructing their latest tearjerker?

As the debate continues to rage, the following collection of adlanders reveal just how divisive this topic can be. So which is more important: the emotion, or the message?

Grant McAloon, executive creative director, Leo Burnett Sydney, says:

McAloon says the rational must underpin the emotional

“The best brands have always established an emotional connection while providing a message. After all, we aren’t robots. We’re (often) irrational creatures, driven by, and craving emotion. The brands we love recognise this, and even if the products they make are coldly technical, the way they act and what they say can magically transform the cold into the warm. But that can only happen when we truly understand the purpose of the brand based on a powerful human insight.

“You can woo with a piece of music, or a piece of tech that feels cool and new, but, ultimately, your reason for being in my life has to make sense. The rational has to underpin the emotional.”

Jacqueline Witts, head of strategy, AJF Partnership, says:

Witts says succesful brands move away from complex messaging to simple ones

“The majority of decisions we make are made emotionally [95% of them, according to Ehrenberg Bass], with the unconscious mind, and rationalised later, with the conscious mind.

“If we build a brand correctly, those memories will last for a very long time. We build memory through emotion and establishing and building memory structure.

“My answer would be a simple one that taps emotion. The most memorable campaigns have done that well and done it consistently. Louie the Fly was a character that people loved and he died in every single ad, because that’s what Mortein is all about: killing flies.

“The temptation is to try and feed people all the information they need to stimulate key purchase drivers and get them to choose our brand. The temptation is understandable, but we know it doesn’t work like that. The most successful brands have moved away from complex messaging to simple meaning.”

Damian Pincus, founder and creative partner, The Works, says:

Pincus said if the emotional messaging is right, the windfall is gold

“I wish more brands were focusing on emotional messaging as it’s much more powerful than lots of rational messaging. But we need more than ever to get our insights right. What will compel people to change or do something, this is the critical piece in marketing for brands in a world where no one product stands apart.

“Most brands don’t do it because it’s hard. It’s hard to get there and involves a lot of great thinking and great thinkers. It takes time, energy and effort to go through all the data, really understand your audience and the brand you’re selling.

“But the windfall if you get it right is gold. You will have consumers love you for making the effort and this will pay dividends not just in sales but value for the brand. Maybe we should be focusing on how good the insight is rather than is the message emotional or rational. My belief is if you get that right then you can do either. Six years ago we launched an insight driven idea for Canadian Club called ‘Over Beer?’. This insight has delivered incredible growth for the brand and continues to do so today. We executed emotional and rational messaging and it all worked on that journey. These are the type of ideas we should be looking for.”

Rob Dougan, Clemenger BBDO Sydney, head of planning, says:

Dougan says “you can’t afford to take sides”

“The fact that we’re even having this discussion is odd. As a planner, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to rock a Venn diagram and this is one such moment. Great campaigns are both evocative and communicate a message. Divorcing emotion and message serves neither purpose.

“But that’s the way marketing is headed, with the work increasingly falling into two camps. On one side, there are the rational communicators who simply carpet-bomb consumers into submission. Harvey Norman is the quintessential example with wall-to-wall voiceovers that leave your ears ringing for days.

“And on the other hand, you have the emotional dreamers who push their brand into the stratosphere and sever all relationship with the product. The recent Heineken campaign is a good example.

“When it comes to message vs emotion, you can’t afford to take sides. The only answer is both. Without emotion, you can’t create a connection. Without a message, there’s no point having a connection in the first place. Depending on the objective a more functional campaign might be needed and sometimes emotion will need to lead, but the outcome should always leave consumers having felt something, and understood something.”

Nicole Gardner, general manager, McCann, says:

Gardner says: “Storytelling performs at its best when it is honest, relatable and forges a human connection and response”

“There is no doubt that emotional responses to campaigns can be more influential on brand decisions than just the content.

“Research has shown that highly emotive campaigns are around three times more likely to be remembered than campaigns with a weak emotional response. A person may not always remember exactly what the brand said, but they usually remember how the brand made them feel.

“An emotional response whether it be a tug at the heart strings or a deep belly laugh will punch above its weight in getting people to respond positively to a brand’s message. Storytelling performs at its best when it is honest, relatable and forges a human connection and response. But heart felt emotion adds nothing unless it lands meaning and associations that are linked to the brand and the role it plays in a person’s life. No amount of emotion can compensate if a brand’s message is not conveyed as part of the emotional story.

“To this effect, traditional brand metrics including brand recall, purchase intent and brand preference still play an important part in determining effectiveness. Getting an audience to connect to your brand’s message and respond positively, helping them navigate from thinking to feeling and then onto doing, buying and using, is still and has always been, key to impactful communications.”

Simon Jarosz, creative director, MediaCom Beyond Advertising, says:

Jarosz says connecting with an audience emotionally is a much strong long-term strategy

“It depends on the campaign, brands are relying more on emotional connections as they need to talk more about what they believe in (insert Simon Sinek quote here).

“So, if the campaign is to elevate the perception of a brand and what it stands for, connecting with their audience on an emotional level is by far a stronger and effective long-term strategy. This helps make brands more relatable by giving human characteristics and allowing their audience to believe in them. But messaging can be as important if the outcome is to instruct. Sometimes the brand needs to sit behind the message and allow the audience to feel empowered first, then discover the brand.”

Dan Ratner, strategy director, Uberbrand, says:

Ratner says “an effective campaign needs to utilise meaning to help carry a message”

“They say that empathy is a uniquely human quality. That being said, emotion is an essential and inextricable part of making connections. Therefore an effective campaign needs to utilise meaning to help carry a message.

“Attributes and characteristics of a proposition are often replicable. It’s common knowledge that people make decisions emotionally, and then rationalise them logically. So clearly standing for something helps you to differentiate.

“It’s an interesting time, as marketers navigate the competing objectives of driving meaning and positioning while driving leads. So, while we are seeing a movement for more brands to look towards the single unifying idea to help deliver clarity of message, it’s also competing with shorter-term objectives of driving sales.”

Sinead Roarty, associate creative director, JWT, says:

Roarty says “if we want to change behaviour there’s no better way than to tug at the heartstrings”

“I have to fess up to loving ads that rip your heart out. But they have to hit the right emotional note and not just be emotionally manipulative. There’s nothing worse than an ad with a mission to make you cry before you buy, without having any meaningful connection to the brand. P&G got it right with their Best Job (Thank You, Mom) campaign for the London Olympics. Kids, mums and sport – the holy trinity of warm fuzzies done well.

“Creating an emotive response means the brand has something to say that’s beyond a transactional message. It gives the brand a point of view. And it’s brave, because standing for something means the brand is willing to stand apart from its competitors and put itself on the line. Take Apple’s 1997 Think Different campaign – everyone wanted to be one of the crazy ones after that. And everyone wanted a Mac.

“Delivering emotion well is about nailing the right sentiment, without getting sentimental. Western Sydney University’s Deng Adut is a real tearjerker, for all the right reasons. Yet being emotive doesn’t have to mean being serious. Take the Ikea Lamp spot where the brand toyed with our emotions – you’d have to be a real hard ass not to well up at the sight of the cuckolded lamp standing on the rainy street corner, and then the brand laughed at us for siding with it. That’s gold.

“If we want to change behaviour there’s no better way than to tug at the heartstrings. It’s the old rational vs emotional argument. Is a cheaper, better, faster message going to make me love a brand for the long haul or will I choose a brand that I’m emotionally hardwired to? Let’s just say I’ll always buy a Mac.”

Toby Harrison, chief strategy officer, Ogilvy Sydney, says:

Harrison says emotional advertising is “incredibly important”

“If you study your history, you will quickly realise that nothing new ever really happens. And such, it is the same with advertising. The recent obsession with ‘emotional advertising’ is not a novel concept. In fact, it has been at the heart of the most successful work since the days of WH Lever and can be clearly seen in the work of PT Barnum, Claude Hopkins, Edward Bernays, Roseer Reeves and David Ogilvy. So ‘emotion’ is not some new snake oil that magically helps to sell, it’s always been there. But it has only been in recent days that there has been some evidence to back up what the aforementioned luminaries already knew.

“Les Binet & Peter Field have done a tremendous amount of work validating the role of emotion in advertising. Painstakingly studying the data from 1000s of case studies in the IPA data bank, they found ‘emotional advertising’ to be a critical factor in creating ‘very large business effects’. Knowing this, it might make sense to focus solely on ‘emotionalising’ your brand. However, there is an elastic limit to what emotion can do for your business. Crying does not automatically equal buying.

“As with anything, there’s shades of grey in this debate. Emotional advertising is incredibly important to build a bond with a consumer and heighten the mental availability of your brand. But there is also a time and a place for rational messaging too.”

Laura McRae, senior planner, The Monkeys, says:

McRae says “big ideas sit above rational and emotional constructs”

“The short answer is yes and no. Campaigns are absolutely getting more adept at appealing to our emotions because we know that emotions rule the decision-making process, but it doesn’t mean there is a shift away from the rational. Satisfying the critical mind is just as important in helping people post-rationalize and justify their (often illogical) consumer behaviour. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising found that emotional campaigns are highly effective in the long term but respond slowly to metrics in the short term, whereas rationally-lead campaigns do the opposite. Thus there is certainly a trend towards leading with emotion, but rationality still plays a pivotal role in the lifespan and success of a brand.

“Looking at it from a psychological perspective, we can’t even really separate the two. Many researchers of cognitive-behavioural sciences can’t define what ‘rational’ really is: rationality can have a variety of meanings such as objective thinking, a decision that maximizes personal benefit, or a decision that’s sensible – but in reality, it’s a mythical concept that can never truly be experienced. Humans are incapable of absolute rationality – we simply don’t have the time, capacity or strength to think this way when it comes to the choices we make. Thus speaking about these concepts as separate ‘messages’ is actually impossible, even when we’re speaking in marketing terms.

“In fact, marketers don’t even think in these terms anymore and are now integrating them into a ‘big idea’, mimicking how people actually think and make decisions. Big ideas sit above rational and emotional constructs and reflect both sides of the coin. Rational and emotional reasoning cannot be fully separated, thus trying to think within these fabricated constructs often leads to fragmented campaign messaging. The creation of big ideas aim to reflect how humans actually process information, and is now how the most successful campaigns operate.”


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