Is Advertising Too Emotional?

The basis for this trend is entirely valid: If consumers connect with an ad emotionally, they’re more likely to “hear” a brand’s message.

But it’s worth considering whether this trend may have gone too far, resulting in advertising that’s mostly fluff and little meat—thus failing to deliver the promised impact on sales.

A meta-analysis of eight advertising research studies conducted by The Center for Emotional Marketing shows that advertising which provokes a strong emotional response without providing sufficient product information often breaks through the clutter, but is unlikely to change behavior and increase market share.

The results, across a range of consumer product categories from food and health and beauty to automotive and technology show that purely emotional advertising doesn’t build business.

Such advertising connects with consumers, but then fails to make use of that connection with the credible information needed to change peoples’ minds. It’s like going to a restaurant with a fabulous ambience and enticing aroma, but the food never comes. They’ve put you in the mood, but they never give you anything to sink your teeth into.

I call this “emotional undersell”—a situation in which advertising captures consumers’ attention and engages them emotionally but fails to close the deal.

But in client conference rooms across America, I see ad agency execs continuing to sell purely emotional campaigns that build goodwill but not purchases.

This is having a negative affect on agency-advertiser relations. While changes in consumer behavior and the fragmentation of traditional media are often cited as culprits in the declining influence that agencies have with their clients, these explanations overlook something: agencies’ obsession with getting consumers to bond emotionally with their work at the expense of delivering campaigns that actually boost sales.

One of the classic agency arguments against product information is that it renders the advertising dull and lifeless and gets in the way of the movie they want to make. But a recent Advertising Research Foundation study of beer ads shows that romancing your product visually—for example, slowly pouring ice-cold beer into a tall glass—can generate as much emotion as babies or puppies.

Of course, the beer-pour cliché is likely to provoke cries of protest from the agency’s creative folk.

And marketing clients contribute to the gridlock by viewing all advertising as black or white. As soon as emotional advertising stops working, they retreat to purely product-based campaigns, instead of recognizing the opportunity for creative that brings the two together.

The solution? Advertisers and their agencies need to strike a balance with campaigns that integrate product information and emotion. It turns out that logic and emotion work in concert to help us make decisions—you can’t have one without the other. Effective advertising needs to convey both seamlessly.

If they want to improve their relations, advertisers and agencies need to internalize a new set of principles that enlightened marketers and agencies are beginning to live by:

1) Shed the paradigm that advertising is either “emotional” or “functional.” Business-building advertising is in most cases a blend of the two.

2) Integrate product information in new, more creative ways. The traditional package shot may register the brand but it may not stimulate a positive emotional response. In contrast, advertising that romances the product, includes an exaggerated demonstration or creates a virtual usage experience gives consumers the product information they need while appealing to their emotions. That mundane “product” may be much more exciting than you think.

3) Tell a good story, a tale in which the product is the hero. The product must be essential to this story—not an afterthought.

In short, agencies and advertisers need to move away from extreme either/or positions and seek more balanced solutions. Such advertising actually helps build market share—and that, after all, is the best way to build better relations.