A young boy runs into a church tower. He leaps into the air and grabs the bell rope, yanking it down and setting the bell clanging. The first few notes of the orchestra swell and over the hill we can see through the skeletal threes a convoy of lights winding their way towards us.
The Coke advert is on television, and suddenly my Christmas has started. It’s the same for many people my age.
As much as we may like to scoff at the idea, most of us can think of one or several adverts without which Christmas simply would not be the same. How about the Yellow Pages one, where a young boy needs to use the telephone directory as a stepping stool to kiss a girl under the mistletoe? Or Santa eating a bowl of Kellogg’s cornflakes in front of an awed little girl who has come looking for presents?
Or more recently Monty the Penguin, whose loneliness is finally ended at Christmas when his owner reveals his present for the year: a lady penguin (admittedly this doesn’t sound so heart-warming when you just describe the advert aloud).
But just how is it that some brands can make adverts – essentially the thing that we used to see as being the annoying bit in the middle of our favourite TV shows – which so perfectly encapsulate the spirit of Christmas that we eagerly await seeing them again?
That’s the holy grail of marketing.
The festive case for emotional marketing
What all the classic Christmas adverts do is tap into the magic of Christmas by drilling down to the core of what makes this time of year so endearing. That string of Coca-Cola trucks winding their way towards town is symbolic of the long wait for Christmas itself and the joy to come when it finally arrives.
The fact that the advert is filmed from the point of view of a young boy helps to take us back to childhood, when we were eagerly awaiting the day where we could leap out of bed and rip open our presents.
Getting people into a childlike state works well, as the rose-tinted view of our younger days helps emphasise the positives and reduce the negatives – how many of your favourite childhood things have you been shocked or disappointed to discover are actually not that good when you fondly revisit them as an adult?
The music, the lights, the crowd – it all works to create a feeling of wonder that encapsulates what Christmas is to so many of us.
Rather than the message of the ad being ‘Christmas is great with Coca-Cola’, I think the premis is ‘Christmas is great; so is Coca-Cola’.
Meanwhile, John Lewis’s Monty the Penguin advert perfectly taps into the idea of community and company. For most people, Christmas is a time to spend with family and friends – to share the love around. One of the arguments against the anti-capitalist critique of gift-giving is that it is an opportunity to demonstrate that we care – which can often be hard to do in day-to-day life.
Just like songs such as Lonely This Christmas, Last Christmas or Christmas Wrapping, Monty the Penguin resonates with our desire to be surrounded by the people we love over the festive period.
Emotion is the key
It’s very easy to start sounding like a university professor, or a philosopher, when discussing why adverts have impact. But psychology supports the idea that emotion is a very powerful marketing tool.
It’s well established that emotion accounts for 80% of the buying decision – so how you make your audience feel is the most important part of your imagery, design and of course copy.
Inside the human brain is a constant battle between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex: the former controls are more animalistic and emotive desires and attempts to fulfil needs based upon our survival, while the latter is in charge of rational thinking and more advanced cognition.
While the prefrontal cortex does spend much of its time aiming to rein in the limbic system, once activated certain emotions, drives or desires can be very hard to get rid of. Anyone who has ever opened a packet of chocolate digestives with the goal of ‘just having one’ will understand just how hard it is to rationally overcome a desire.
Which is why it is important that you activate these emotions. If this sounds like its manipulative, it’s not. You cannot create a desire within somebody to do something that is hugely counter to the way they live their life. You can have the most emotive message possible on your posters for black pudding, but you’re not going get vegans flocking through the door just because you’ve tried to pluck at their heartstrings.
Every business should operate under the principle that they have something they know their customer needs, but that their customer may not realise what those benefits are. This is where emotion comes in. You are simply trying to communicate to them in the most effective way that their life can be improved with what you have to offer – this should be what you genuinely believe, if you are in business for the right reasons.
Human beings have just as many irrational brain processes that stop them from doing things that are good for them. That’s why it’s important to make sure this is balanced by positive messages.
Do you have to make your audience cry?
Of course, it’s very easy to say that you need to connect with the audience on an emotional level, but this doesn’t always fit with the kind of business or industry you operate in.
Someone looking to buy pressurised air for use in the manufacturing process is unlikely to be swayed by anthropomorphised Arctic animals, or a pair of young children chasing each other around the house on Christmas Day, using compressed air to blow glitter at each other.
While some adverts do make their audience emotional in an obvious way, emotional marketing does not necessarily mean tugging at the heartstrings. Emotional marketing is about understanding how people feel about a certain product or problem, and targeting your content to strike a chord.
For instance, the Managing Director of that manufacturing company may not want a tearjerker when it comes to being advertised compressed air, but they might be worried by the amount it’s going to cost if they can’t find an alternate supplier. They may be excited by the idea of increased efficiency and therefore greater profits. That they can deal with someone who is friendly and 100% reliable could make them relieved.
These are all feelings as well. And your marketing can resonate with those feelings.
Be empathetic and win new business
So this Christmas, and in the New Year that follows, think about how you can use emotion to engage more deeply with your target audience. 80% of the buying decision is based upon emotion, so to try using only facts or logic to generate sales is to ignore 4/5ths of your potential to engage and convert.
Get on board with emotional marketing and see how it could boost your sales and generate deeper relationships and stronger brand loyalty.
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