Why marketers need to engage people’s emotions

by Nigel Hollis | February 06, 2017

AdReaction: Gen X, Y, Z study reminded me once again that the slow shift in people’s attitudes toward advertising places more emphasis on the need for emotionally-engaging content, rather than touting product specs and reasons to buy. It is not enough just to get your ad in front of someone; you need them to attend to it long enough that some impression sticks with them.

Once upon a time, advertising had an informational value and, if not welcome in people’s lives, was at least tolerated. Advertising told people about things they might want to buy and which they might aspire to own. In developed markets today the value of advertising as a source of information has been eroded. News reviews, bloggers and friends on social media all compete to celebrate the latest and greatest product or service. A simple search will bring you details of brands you did not even know existed and e-commerce will deliver them to your door. 

In large part advertisers have responded by desperately trying to get their ads in front of people whenever and wherever they can, dramatically increasing advertising clutter. The end result? A growing antipathy toward advertising and an increasing number of people trying to avoid it. The proportion of people who agree that ads are much better than they used to be has declined by over 40 percent in less than a decade. AdReaction: Gen X, Y and Z finds 85 percent of people claim to avoid ads by one means or another and 34 percent claim to have added an ad blocker. The same study finds Gen Z to have lower than average receptivity to most ad formats.

The funny thing is that all the evidence suggests that people will still attend to advertising that makes it worth their while. I am not referring to mobile app rewards which literally buy attention, but intangible rewards, something enjoyable, inspiring or useful. Marketers that create content that people want to consume also benefit from the growing shift from push to pull. If the content is good enough to engage people’s emotions and create buzz then more people will start to seek it out and share it.


A great example of this is the John Lewis Christmas advertising in the UK. By creating engaging stories designed to evoke an emotional reaction from the audience, John Lewis has managed to amplify its core campaign through traditional media coverage, social sharing and people seeking out the ads on YouTube. Between 2012 and 2015 the number of searches for “John Lewis ad” quadrupled and online ad views increased by ten times. Parodies of the ads alone were viewed 7 million times. As a result, John Lewis’s market share grew from 23 percent to nearly 30 percent as sales outdistanced UK retail sales growth online and off.

So how did they do it? John Lewis’s ad agency adam&eveDDB focused on creating a positive emotional response from viewers. A response that would reward people for watching (yes, the majority of the media budget went to good, old fashioned TV), and at the same time boost brand salience and deepen brand affinity. Post testing of UK Christmas ads by Kantar Millward Brown finds people 20 percent more likely to say John Lewis’s ads make them love the brand than the our ad norm.

As I noted in this post not every brand has the luxury of forgoing explicit messaging. However, if you do have a compelling claim or message to convey maybe it would be a good idea if you remembered Mary Poppins’ advice and offered a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. What do you think? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Celal Bozkurt, February 07, 2017

    Since the sale of something gets more difficult and difficult, experts in this advertising field search for everything in details not only from the aspect of tangible but also intangible side of products subject to be advertised, to touch the feelings of the prospect buyers without forcing them without bothering them just show something interesting, mysterious or joyful to address their feelings or inner worlds.

  2. Ed C, February 06, 2017
    100% agree. I wouldn't be surprised that in a few years we see all effective advertising having some emotional element. Measuring viral potential may likely also gain in importance in effectiveness.

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