Emotional advertising – keepin’ it real

The McDonalds “I’m Lovin’ It” slogan was bad enough, unless you actually liked McDonalds food. Their more recent “Choose Lovin” campaign is an even bigger stretch, trying as it does to connect an unhealthy, environmentally irresponsible fast-food chain to the most sublime of all human emotions. It got a lot of Bronx cheers as a result, mostly from folks who pointed out that the company might want to kick off its “lovin’” campaign by announcing that it would start paying its employees a $15 minimum wage and also show Earth more love by not buying potatoes grown with toxic pesticides.*

Still, emotional pitches are all the rage these days among digital age Madmen. “The rise in emotional advertising comes at a time when brands are striving to create ‘content,’ not simply make ‘ads’,” writes Rae Ann Fera in Fast Company.** “That is, they are devoting their energies to crafting stories (and other things—products, apps, experiences) that people actively seek out and share—stuff that looks more like the entertainment and editorial material audiences like, not the unpleasant interruption to that material.”

So what works? The answer is pretty simple, according to several advertising gurus Fera quotes: being strictly true to real human emotions and making sure the specific emotion elicited by an ad somehow matches consumers’ actual experience of a company. According to Fera, Volkswagen’s now famous “The Force” ad had a below-average “purchase intent” score with consumers in pre-distribution testing, but a phenomenal “neuro-engagement” score. Volkswagen’s decision to run “The Force” paid off, she says: “It became among the most beloved and shared Super Bowl ads ever, amassing a staggering 56 million views on YouTube, earning a reported 6.8 billion impressions worldwide and more than $100 million in earned media. And it helped the VW brand achieve the best market share stateside in 30 years in 2011. So much for purchase intent.”

I would add only that “The Force” was phenomenally successful in large part because of its multi-level “surprise” factor—the little boy’s surprise and the surprise we experience with him when the VW turns on, accented by his father’s raised-eyebrow glance at his mother just after we see the remote in the father’s hand. Deutsch L.A. adman Douglas Van Praet would call that a “pattern interrupt,” which he sees as an essential component of successful advertising.***

And of course all of the above can and should be applied well beyond TV advertising–to many kinds of marketing communications, including Web content strategy and copywriting.


* “McMadness: Activists Pile on at McDonald’s Shareholders Meeting” (Allison Aubrey, NPR)

** “The Rise of Sadvertising – Why Brands Are Determined to Make You Cry” (Rae Ann Fera, Fast Company)

*** “Research–You’re Doing It Wrong. How Uncovering the Unconscious Is Key to Creativity” (Douglas Van Praet, Fast Company)