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15 May 2012

The new era of emotive advertising


by Danny Turnbull

Over the last few years we have seen ad campaigns focus largely on the financial benefits of purchasing a specific product, rather than building loyalty and brand values to incentivise purchases. BOGOF deals, half price sales and aspirational products became the order of the day for advertisers. But there has been something of a sea change over the past year or so, where ads are becoming more emotive. Take John Lewis and its runaway success with its ‘The Long Wait’ advert over Christmas, which had viewers reaching for the tissues. Google’s ‘Dear Sophie’ ad also pulled on the heartstrings of the British public, culminating in Google’s VP stating that “If we don’t make you cry, we fail.” So what do advertisers want to achieve with this tactic of emotive advertising?

John Lewis The long wait"The Long Wait" for John Lewis, by Adam & Eve

This emotive trend aims to develop brand loyalty and moral values. Companies are cautious of being viewed solely as money-grabbing and unsympathetic of people’s situations in a credit-crunch economy, with political leaders extolling the benefits of ‘responsible capitalism’. What better way to portray a million – or in Google’s case a billion – dollar business than as a friend with the same morals, values and drives that the public have. The ‘Dear Sophie’ ad oozes ‘family’, ‘love’ and ‘security’, and merely by association it suggests that this is what Google will provide – exactly what many yearn for in hard times.

These emotive themes also trigger audiences to interact with brands far easier because they are not presented as faceless corporations. Brands want to drive customer loyalty, and create genuine relationships between customers, companies and products that hasn’t been seen in the past. A brand that acts and supports a lifestyle – be it green, socially conscious or family-driven is more likely to be granted with a consumer’s custom. Don’t be surprised if John Lewis’ competitors start building a brand image that conveys a specific set of values in attempt to overshadow the department store of choice.

Another intriguing correlation with this emotive branding exercise is the rise of the happiness index. Various countries and governing bodies have conducted wide scale investigations into the wellbeing of their populations. However tenuous and flimsy you think this metric is, it is a revealing coincidence that the rising public profile of the nation’s happiness (or lack of it) has been matched by an increase in emotive advertising. The economic outlook over the past few years has turned from bad to worse, and this has caused a change in the outlook of the population. No longer is there such a focus on financial benefits (maybe because there simply isn’t enough money lying around anymore) and so the general consumer now aspires to other things – namely emotional happiness and their overall wellbeing. It is clear that advertisers have sensed this and realised that a change in tactics must be locked in.

The switch of aspirations by the general public from wealth to emotional wellbeing naturally has caused a shift in tactics by marketers. Such a major cultural shift means that marketing must now appeal to more than just the customer’s wallet, and must provide benefits that go beyond financial gain. The age of big business, advertisers and corporations making unchecked profit has been consigned to the gutter, and now society wants companies that will give back not just in taxes and jobs, but in social wellbeing and long-term morality.

Brands must align themselves with this new way of thinking, or risk losing customers. This brings us back to the theory of ‘responsible capitalism’. Many consumers are re-assessing how they live their lives and it’s down to brands to help them live more sustainably. Business and advertising must also follow their path to cement loyalty in the long-term.

Danny Turnbull is Managing Director at gyro


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