It's time we started taking the emotions a little more seriously.
In life, we remember moments of high emotion. The nail-biting final minutes of a game, the drama of a talent show, the tear-jerking finale of a great film. It's when we feel most alive. Similarly, the creative work we really remember is the work that moves us, that makes us feel something, anything.
So why does the marketing industry end up sweeping emotion under the carpet so much? Perhaps it's because a world dominated by emotions sounds a bit risky, a bit chaotic and hard to explain. Clients and agencies alike are more comfortable relying on logic and reason than on intuition and gut feel. It is easier to justify a creative decision with a bit of maths behind it, however bogus the numbers. It's the big pre-testing and ad-evaluation systems in particular that play into this rationalising urge.
If we don't make the case for a more emotionally intelligent understanding of communications, if we fail to stay on top of recent developments in brain psychology, don't we become accomplices in preventing better creative work?
It is rather ironic because so many of the brands we work with are in near-parity markets, where emotion is perhaps the only competitive advantage available. Emotional competitive advantage isn't just a theory. There is compelling evidence that it delivers a much greater return on marketing investment.
We recently analysed the John Lewis "never knowingly undersold" campaign with Neuro-Insight's brain-imaging technology, which records electrical signals at the scalp to build a second-by-second picture of brain activity. The results showed peaks of response at or above typical maximum levels throughout the ad, indicating very strong memory encoding. Engagement and emotional intensity were also very high, suggesting that the ad was connecting with people at a powerful subconscious level. Is that one reason why John Lewis has outperformed the retail sector so spectacularly over the past two years?
Les Binet and Peter Field's work with the IPA Datamine shows that emotional campaigns outperform rational ones on almost every single attitudinal dimension, across almost all categories. Most planners are familiar with these findings but, to their shame, they and their agencies have failed to share this thinking in a convincing way with their clients. We still employ testing techniques that are out of step with the science but live on because of our collective unwillingness to upset the apple cart. Agency folk have developed a learned helplessness towards these kinds of "angels on a pin-head" research debriefs, not fully believing the results but not daring to unpick the powerful combination of norms, risk aversion and simple bad habits that sustain them.
John Lewis advertising at its best works because it moves people in a visceral, emotional way. This is entirely consistent with up-to-date psychology and neuroscience. As much as 99 per cent of our thinking is non-conscious, non-verbal and emotionally driven. It doesn't mean that we are entirely irrational, but we tend to use facts to support our intuitive hunches; I feel, therefore I am.
Contrast this with our research tools. Ideas are mostly tested using high-attention, conscious-processing techniques. Techniques that are the opposite to the state of mind we're in, vegging out on the sofa.
What we are dealing with here is the rational mind fallacy. And it perpetuates a rational message fallacy: that advertising works by rational persuasion alone, convincing with points of information. Is it this fallacy that explains why we rarely look at responses to the music? It also means we overlook the general feelings our work creates. Instead, we unpick the specific bits of "message" coming across. It's like judging someone on what they say while ignoring their body language. Could this explain why Datamine suggests pre-tested campaigns have a lower level of effectiveness than those that are not pre-tested? Is it a coincidence that John Lewis does not use quantitative pre-testing in developing creative? Explosive stuff. Unless you sweep it under the carpet ...
What we need is for this new thinking about communications to really cut through with research agencies, creative agencies and their clients. Digital marketing particularly presents us with new ways to track emotional response - for example, with facial recognition. There are some bright sparks out there trying to make headway but with limited success. In the face of so much tradition and inertia, we need a broad coalition to bring our testing and measurement culture into the 21st century.
At its most basic, we are in this business to make work that makes people like brands more. Hardly surprising, then, that according to a number of studies, likeability of advertising is the best predictor of sales effectiveness. When you boil it down, all you really need is love.
Leo Rayman is the head of planning at Adam&Eve/DDB
FIVE THINGS TO DO NOW
1. Always identify where the emotion is in your category.
2. Review all historic tracking with a focus on likeability - what is the pattern?
3. Ask research partners how they are responding to the latest neuroscience and psychology.
4. Meet with research agencies experimenting with new techniques (eg. implicit memory tests).
5. Run a seminar on emotional effectiveness for colleagues and clients.