It takes less than three seconds to have a gut reaction. Emotions, rather than cognitive thinking, have a more profound impact on our actions; create lasting, impressions; and predispose us to follow the same course of action in the future.
For brands, this is an incredibly powerful fact, and many are taking action by creating emotional ads designed to go straight for the gut. Emotional ads aren’t merely images and slogans that try to educate and persuade viewers. They manipulate consumers’ feelings and stimulate the emotional triggers that influence how we make decisions. An emotional ad may be designed to incite anger, sadness or joy —all targeted toward the brand’s end goal. While this can be a wildly successful strategy, the best emotional ads reach a resolution instead of leaving viewers wallowing.
For brands using emotional storytelling, the wrong tone or context can make advertisements feel more like con artistry.
Feelings are gold
Brands are latching onto emotional ads because when they work, we reach for our tissues and our wallets. Studies analyzed 55 emotional marketing campaigns, with categories ranging from “nostalgic storytelling” to “waiting dogs,” and found the average popularity score to be 8.0—higher than flashier categories like “adventurous auto” and “scandalous undies.”
Emotional ads aren’t just likable, they also drive higher conversion rates. A recent study found that ads with purely emotional content generated twice as much profit as ads based on rational content (31 percent vs. 16 percent). According to Nielsen, “Emotions are central to advertising effectiveness,” and ads that generated the best emotional response generated a 23 percent lift in sales volume. fMRI neuro-imagery shows that consumers use emotions rather than information to evaluate a brand.
While the traditional marketing research models assume that persuasion produces desired behavior, consumer decisions aren’t guided by linear thinking nearly as much as by feeling. But not all feelings are created equally. When an emotional ad fails, audience reactions can veer from their intended course. So how do brands get what they want without manipulating the audience? We examined some emotional content—both good and bad—to find out.
Some hard feelings
Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, made some waves recently with a heart disease ad featuring a man sitting in an armchair, blissfully unaware as water slowly floods his room. Even though Novartis never mentions its products, cardiologists, professors, and marketers still slammed the ad, calling it “shameful” and “terrifying.” The tone, they claimed, was a subtle threat that manipulated vulnerable patients—maybe the right angle for selling heart disease drugs, but the wrong tone for winning an audience’s trust.
Successful emotional ads must strike the right tone: Fear is a viable emotion to use, but it’s got to appeal on an instinctual, subconscious level, which is where more advertising happens.
Context is essential for emotional ads, a lesson learned from the fallout of Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen.” The ad, which aired during the 2015 Super Bowl, begins with a sweet touch—a child listing the milestones of boyhood—but then, wait, actually he’s dead, due to a totally preventable car accident. The punchline was more like a sucker punch, delivered during a celebratory occasion and sandwiched between feel-good ads about puppies.
Nationwide misjudged both the tone and context of its ad, eliciting some harsh reviews, an audible “ugh” that echoed around living rooms nationwide.
A key component to successful emotional advertising is to find and capitalize on the core value of the brand, not just reach blindly for an emotional reaction. Otherwise, companies risk mocking an audience’s emotional intelligence. In this example, Nationwide blindsided audiences with emotion just for effect, which came across as manufactured and heavy-handed.
That’s not to say successful emotional ads have to be cheerful. In fact, negative emotions can be a powerful tool to elevate a brand’s message, as long as they’re not delivered too bluntly. Brands are cautioned to strategically resolve negative emotions and leave audiences with a positive takeaway.
For example, Thai Life Insurance’s aptly named “Unsung Hero” tackles the dark subject of poverty but ends the story on the protagonist’s random acts of kindness. The ad, which tucked away the Thai Life Insurance logo on the closing screen, received over 27 million YouTube views.
What many suggest is “the best anti-smoking ad ever”, Smoking Kid, shows the results of a series of pranks when young kids approach smokers and ask them to light up their cigarettes. The ad went viral in 30 countries and coincided with a 40 percent increase in hotlines that help smokers quit, effectively using a dark truth and the power of “advertising” to power the campaign’s call to action.
All storytelling is a form of manipulation and in many cases, manipulation is just one of the many tools brands can rely on to stand out. But to create great content—with the added goal of driving ROI—they have to tap into a universal truth. That’s the only way to make sure a gut reaction doesn’t turn into a stomach ache.
Call us today for help creating your next ad that moves people’s emotions and pocketbooks in your company’s favor.