The Poverty of "Sadvertising"...

"Sadvertising." It appears to be everywhere. Advertising that tries to elicit a strong emotional response, to strengthen our connection to the brand.

But although human decisions are largely driven by emotion, trying to associate a particular emotion with a brand can be a hit or miss affair.

For example, a 2007 Cadbury's Dairy Chocolate advert which starred a gorilla drumming to the Phil Collins song 'In the air tonight' famously boosted the brand's image and sales by eliciting joy, even though the product only appeared briefly. Yet the follow-up advert, again celebrating joy, failed to benefit the brand, and was quickly taken off air.

What's a marketer to do? 

The Brandworks university I attended recently which explored the science behind habit offered some interesting advice, courtesy of Phil Barden. Emotions are triggered by our success or failure in attaining fundamental human goals. So rather than trying to advertise emotions directly, the key for marketers is to link the functional benefits of the brand to attaining these goals.

We've all heard the quote: "People don't want to buy a 1/4" drill, they want a 1/4" hole!" Attributed to Theodore Levitt, it perfectly sums up why people buy a product or service: to enable them to achieve a functional goal. If a product doesn't enable them to achieve a goal, then it's not useful and won't be considered, no matter how much "Sadvertising" is done.

This is pretty familiar territory for marketers, and seems very rational. The start point for any brand is to enable customers to fulfill a functional goal at least as well as competitors, and preferably better. 

However, human motivation is also driven by deep-seated internal goals: the primary ones being the search for security, for excitement and for autonomy. By linking the functional benefits of the brand to the attainment of one of these internal human goals, marketers can provoke an emotional response that links directly back to the brand.

This all sounds fairly straightforward for advertising. Take cars, for example. All fulfill the goal of transportation through a different mix of functional benefits, but they link to the attainment of different internal goals. For example, BMW link their cars to the thrill of driving (excitement), Mercedes to refinement and status (autonomy), and Volvo to safety (security). By making sure advertising continually demonstrates the relevant linkage, marketers can strengthen the emotional response to their brand.

But in today's connected world, it's not just about advertising. This linkage has to run through the entire customer experience. Trader Joe's is a good example. It fulfills the functional goal of eating, yet its whole customer experience is linked to the internal human goal of excitement. It offers new and interesting products in a quirky, colorful environment, with hand drawn signs and staff in Hawaiian shirts. Its quirky Fearless Flyer features the stories behind its products, rather than the usual product and price that dominates supermarket communication. It makes customers feel excited.

Or take Costco. It too fulfills the goal of eating, yet it makes its customers feel smart, by linking to the internal goal of autonomy. It offers bulk packs of recognizable brands and fresh food in a warehouse environment, with checkouts that use the cardboard boxes the products are delivered in. You have to be a member to access the savings, and big books of coupons are mailed to you. They all convey a sense that you've made a smart choice in shopping there.

Underpinning this is a fundamental point. While marketers tend to treat functional and emotional benefits as separate, as humans we have an emotional response to pretty much every interaction with a brand - function and emotion are intertwined.

So jumping to "Sadvertising" without aligning the rest of the customer experience can weaken the brand by sending out conflicting signals. The brand's credibility in fulfilling a particular goal is then undermined.

But build a direct link between functional benefits and internal human goals and you create a coherent brand...that's powered by emotion. 


Simon's new book "Creating Loyal Brands" out now.