A new advertising scale: understand, feel, experience

by Nigel Hollis | September 21, 2015

As is often the case, a post by Faris Yakob, Co-founder of Genius Steals, titled Reality advertising’ got me thinking. I have no doubt that these days, when so much of our day-to-day experience is mediated by screens and staged for effect; there is huge value in delivering a real, positive experience. And that idea reminded me of a ‘scale’ of advertising response that I had been exploring some time ago.

So what does Yakob mean by reality advertising? In his post he states,

“There is great power in creating a real slice of life, with a pleasant surprise, that creates real emotions, and capturing that on film.”


He suggests that Coca-Cola’s original Happiness Machine has a decent claim to kicking off this trend in earnest (for more information on how Millward Brown helped that idea to reach the big time click here). One of the critical success factors of the Happiness Machine ad is seeing the reaction on the faces of the students as unexpected items appear from the vending machine. We do not just see what happens, we enjoy the moment with them, we cannot help it; reacting to the emotion of others in this way is an integral part of being human.

To my mind this is the mid-point on my advertising experience scale. The advertising successfully evokes a positive feeling that is connected to the brand. What could be better than that? Experiencing that positive feeling first-hand not second-hand. Real-life experiences are compelling in a way that no video can ever replicate. Take for instance, the Arcteryx Academy, the King Arthur Flour School or the BMW Driving Experience.

But what about the ‘understand’ point on the scale? This point encompasses a vast swath of advertising, where the viewer sees what is happening but does not share the emotional experience in any significant way. Much of the advertising is informational. Take for instance, the 2014 Bronze Health Effie Award Winner Zyrtec’s Muddle Through. The big idea purports to be holding a mirror up to ‘Claritin Complacents’ but the scenarios used are hardly ones that evoke an emotional response beyond a passing smile. However, that does not stop the ad being effective. People do not need to relate to the actors shown in order to understand the key message; the knowledge conveyed is enough to motivate people to switch.

A while back I wrote a post titled, 'Rehearsing Reality', in which I proposed that,

“…repeated mental "rehearsal" of what the brand is about helps to build clarity and maximize the chance that the brand will be recognized and found desirable.”

Making sure your ads are understood is the very least you should aim for, but most brands would be far better served by creating and sharing real, positive events, because the emotions these evoke are far more spontaneous, unexpected and authentic. So what do you think? Please share your thoughts. 


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  1. Dominic, October 24, 2015

    "Making sure your ads are understood" is generally true, but there are exceptions; some ads are made to be dense. Often that is wrong; but for the right brand, the right audience and the right medium, it can work.

    But, more importantly here, the idea that brands are better served by creating real and positive events was, I think the original ethos behind one major UK agency (Mother? It is possible I'm misremembering the agency, in which case I apologise).  I vaguely remember several ads featuring clearly non-actors. I don't recall them performing notably better than other ads. And they don't stick in my mind like Guinness Surfers, Smash Martians, Tango's Orange Man, and Levi's Launderette. 'Real events' may be one route to successful advertising. But is it really a 'far better' route?  

  2. faris, September 24, 2015

    Thanks Nigel! 

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