Slowly, I’ve watched the advertising industry get very emotional. I’m not referring to their getting upset with the fact that their income is being squeezed by aggressive clients making them work more for less. What I mean is that in their work, rational reasons to buy are being replaced by emotional reasons to buy. I suspect that their argument for this approach is that emotional advertising gets more attention than advertising that presents a solid rationale for a purchase.
Let me give you two examples:
Once upon a time, Continental Airlines had a simple, rational reason to fly with them instead of their competitors. Their slogan: “More airline for the money.” They had plenty of support for this idea, and they still have. Then some agency that didn’t come up with that line changed it to “Work hard. Fly right.” What in the world does that mean? I suspect that their argument was something about how this was a more powerful emotional argument. That’s silly.
Lowe’s, a very successful challenger to Home Depot, had a brilliant rational argument for shopping at their stores. Their slogan: “Improving home improvement.” So what did they do? They replaced this concept with a more emotional slogan, “Let’s build something together.” More silliness.
This kind of advertising is being produced all over the industry as clients are being sold on the concept that people have to love brands, not just buy them. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have an artful or dramatic way to involve a prospect in your message. The current Wal-Mart advertising is a good example of this kind of work. Their advertising uses a tried and true “slice of life” commercial to dramatize the fact that the money you save will enable you to have more fun in life. Nicely done. But saving money is still the reason to shop at Wal-Mart–fun or no fun.
All advertising and marketing has to supply that reason to buy your product instead of your competitor’s product. Sure, you can say that buying a $50,000 BMW or a $10,000 Rolex is an emotional purchase. Yes, these products are all about prestige or impressing your friends and neighbors. But you still have to supply a rationale for that purchase. BMW is a driving machine. A Rolex takes a year to build. No one wants to admit to themselves that this purchase is all about prestige.
Interestingly, some folk are finally beginning to weigh in on the more rational approach to selling. Mark Penn, in a new book called Microtrends, makes the point that “the rational side of people is far more powerful in many areas of life than the purely emotional side.” He should know, as he is widely regarded as the most perceptive pollster in American politics. He is also the worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller, a very large PR firm.
But what really begins to undermine this emotional silliness is an important piece of research conducted by the digital video-recorder maker TiVo. They examined the commercial-viewing habits of some 20,000 TiVo-equipped households, including which ad campaigns are fast-forwarded past by the lowest percentage of viewers. The results, so far, weigh heavily in favor of rational arguments. Relevance outweighs creativity in TV commercials by a lot. The ads on the “least-fast-forwarded” list aren’t funny, they aren’t touching and they aren’t clever.
Last June, the No. 1 least fast-forwarded campaign was for the home gym brand Bowflex. Viewers looked at the good-looking people on those machines and said, “Maybe I can have a body like that.” A sculpted abdomen is one heck of a rationale for a machine like that. Other winners were for CORT furniture company, Dominican Republic tourism and Hooters Restaurant. Several even throw 1-800 numbers at the end of the commercial.
Clearly, the moral of the story is: If you only have 30 seconds to state your case, skip the seduction and sell your heart out!
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