Opinion

A view from Dave Trott: Reason is emotion

In the early 1800s, the Royal Navy ruled the world's oceans.

The problem was the Industrial Revolution had started.

Warships depending on sails were suddenly redundant: relying solely on the wind for power.

Warships that used steam could go anywhere, at any time.

The Royal Navy needed to switch to steam fast – the problem was: how?

Apart from wind, the only way ships had ever been powered was by oars.

That was the thinking behind the paddle wheel.

A paddle wheel was simply oars going endlessly into the sea, one after another.

So that was the kind of warships the Royal Navy began building.

Big paddle-wheel steamers.

But paddle wheels are exposed to enemy gunfire.

And paddle wheels take up space where guns ought to be.

The Royal Navy badly needed an alternative.

As it happened, there was an alternative: the screw propeller.

Steam turned a spindle with little paddles on it.

This propelled the ship through the water like a screw.

It was mounted underwater, so it wasn’t vulnerable to enemy fire, and it left lots of room for guns.

To the admirals at the Royal Navy, it seemed too good to be true.

How could a little thing like a screw propeller be as powerful as two big paddle wheels?

They held trials to prove it.

Over any distance, the screw propeller beat the paddle steamers.

But the admirals still weren’t convinced.

How could they commit the Royal Navy’s future to this little screw propeller?

All the logical reasoning still had to overcome emotion.

So in 1843, a sea trial was arranged between two steam-driven warships.

They were identical in length, weight and power.

We assume the only way to get an emotional response is with an emotional appeal. But Bernbach knew that isn’t true

The only difference was that HMS Alecto was driven by two large paddle wheels, while HMS Rattler was driven by a single screw propeller.

It would be a straight tug o’ war.

The ships were lined up stern-to-stern and a steel cable passed between them.

Both ships got up full steam and applied full power.

And HMS Rattler began pulling HMS Alecto backwards.

While the paddle wheels were going forward at full power, the screw propeller was pulling them backwards at three knots.

The admirals’ jaws dropped open.

They could see the large paddle wheels thrashing and churning the sea in one direction, while the ship was being towed in the opposite direction.

That day decided the fate of the Royal Navy.

The entire fleet was switched to screw-propeller-driven warships.

All because a rational demonstration got an emotional response.

In advertising, we assume the only way to get an emotional response is with an emotional appeal.

But Bill Bernbach knew that isn’t true.

Look at the history of Volkswagen advertising.

For 50 years, it did product demonstrations.

And it built a brand that has a massive emotional appeal.

Ask anyone about VW and they’ll say "reliable".

That’s an emotional response based on rational advertising.

Because a rational demonstration can have a more powerful emotional effect than something vacuous designed purely to appeal to the feelings.

Done properly, reason is emotion.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

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