November 09, 2010

Emotion Is A Response, Not A Stimulus

In the early to mid 90's, Toyota and General Motors shared a manufacturing facility in Fremont, CA. The plant had a line that built the Toyota Corolla and the (Chevrolet) Geo Prizm. It was the same vehicle, built at the same facility, by the same people. At the end of the production line some cars got the Corolla badge and some got the Prizm badge.

At one point, the Corolla sold for $1,500 more. Yet it outsold the Prizm 3 to 1.

It is clear that if humans were logic machines, this could never happen. There is no logic that can explain this phenomenon. The only explanation is that Corolla carried an emotional value that Prizm did not.

It is an article of faith in the advertising and marketing world that some of the strongest bonds between consumers and brands are built on emotional attachments or beliefs. There is certainly a lot of truth in this.

The question for brands is, where does this emotional value come from and how do you get it?

The usual response to this question from advertisers is "emotion in, emotion out."  That's why we get a certain type of advertising from insurance companies, banks, oil companies, and misguided marketers in dozens of other categories. You've seen these ads a thousand times  -- mothers cradling newborn babies; people in wheelchairs participating in marathons; parades down Main Street; grandpa playing catch with Timmy.

These are supposedly "emotional" moments that are meant to elicit emotional responses. What they actually are are warmed-over cliches that elicit nothing but yawns and trips to the toilet.

The fallacy behind this type of advertising is the assumption that the only way to elicit an emotional response is through images rather than logic.

I can see no reason why logical, benefit-oriented advertising should be any less capable of eliciting an emotional response, and an emotional attachment to a brand, than advertising that is fact-free, benefit-challenged and crassly emotionalistic

I'll bet you if you hooked people up to an emote-o-tron and measured responses, you'd find as much emotional response to "15 minutes can save you 15%" as you would to grandma baking cookies.

This is not to say that there haven't been very effective ads that have done a wonderful job at conveying emotion. There certainly have been. But they are a minuscule minority. Most that try for this fail miserably.

It is true that humans are not logic machines. But, remember, emotion is a response. Not a stimulus.

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