Remember the New Yorker cartoon where two women are talking and one says
to the other, "But enough about me. What do you think about me?"
Such solipsistic myopia is endemic to human behavior, so it's no
surprise that such a condition afflicts companies, too. As a client at a
big pharmaceutical firm once said, "We're really good at figuring out
what's in it for us, but not so good at figuring out what's in it for
Obviously, her company isn't alone. Everybody knows the mantra about
how the product isn't the hero, the customer is, but practicing that
mantra is harder done than said. I'd like to suggest how what's in it
for me (WIIFM) relevance can be best established, using evidence from a
decade of my company's research.
Don't "Lie to Me"
First a note on methodology.
The words "motivation" and "emotion" share the Latin root, movere, to
move, to make something happen (as in generating preference, persuasion
and, ideally, purchase intent), so it should come as no surprise that my
company specializes in using the research tool made famous initially
through Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller Blink, and recently through the
Fox primetime hit series "Lie to Me."
The tool is facial coding, which instead of relying on self-reported
verbal input extracts the amount and (positive) degree of emotional
engagement expressed through people's facial muscle activity. Because
actions dospeak louder than words, the reactions your face intuitively
reveals are the most accurate barometer of whether solipsistic myopia or
genuine WIIFM is achieved in a company's advertising.
Hereis what we've found from a decade of studies. The majority of TV /
radio spots and print ads in our database emphasize two of five
motivational groupings. Those are enjoyment (39%) and empowerment (30%).
In other words over two-thirds of all the advertising we've tested
involves depicting the benefit of purchasing the offer as a matter of
ephemeral pleasure or gaining status, resources and capability. Throw in
another motivation grouping, physical well-being and you get 75% of how
all advertising is slanted..
The Two Missing Motivations Rule
But what of the two other motivational groupings, and what generates
the emotional engagement and preference that drives purchase intent?
Suddenly, self-esteem ("me") and attachment ("we") rule the day.
Together, these two groupings account for only 26% of the ads in our
database. But when you look at the amount of emotional engagement
(defined in facial coding terms as what percentage of tested consumers
reveal at least one codeable emotional response during exposure to an
ad), self-esteem and attachment rank first and second. More
specifically, the level for self-esteem is 50%, 45% for attachment.
The other three motivational groupings that record an average engagement
level of 38%. Clearly, whether the benefit of the offer is about making
me, the consumer, feel better about myself or bolsters my sense of
belonging, are the most vibrant ways of ensuring the offer has deep
emotional value for the potential end-user.
Next, how about the degree of (positive) emotional engagement?
Facial coding works by noting what percentage of tested consumers reveal
codeable emotional responses that,are predominantly positive. Now let me
tell you that's no slam-dunk. Even a person born blind reveals the same
emotions that you and I because, as Charles Darwin realized, our
emotional displays aren't learned, they've been hard-wired into the
brain over the course of evolution.
And of the seven core emotions people reveal - happiness, surprise,
sadness, fear, anger, disgust and contempt, only one (happiness) is
purely positive. One is neutral (surprise), the other five negative
because people hear bad news more loudly than good news as a matter of
increasing one's survival odds.
Emotional Displays, the Barometer
Emotional displays aren't a matter of "lip service." They serve as a
barometer of what connects for people and makes them feel better about
wanting to purchase a given offer. And, while the ways in which self-esteem are depicted in the advertising we've tested rises no higher than
49%, roughly in the range for enjoyment and empowerment, the degree to
which depictions of attachment as the ultimate benefit of purchasing
are positive in nature, reaches an astonishing 83%.
So when it comes to which motivation to invoke "me" (self-esteem) and "we" (attachment) are the most robust. Then when it comes to positive
emotional pay-off , attachment becomes a company's best avenue for
fostering preferential relevance. However, three-quarters of the
advertising that we've tested is off-base, focused primarily on
enjoyment and empowerment.
Three Degrees of Meaningfulness
Should it come as a surprise that the nurturing "we" of attachment,
which incorporates the "me" and fosters connectedness, should win?
Hardly. Researchers have concluded that happiness resides in finding
meaning in our lives and that when it comes to meaningfulness, there are
three ever more important degrees of how value gets determined in life.
At the outer ring are the fleeting pleasures of the flesh. Those are the
weakest ring of the motivational bulls-eye. Only 6% of the ads in our
database that draw on the physical realm reside there. Meanwhile, the
next inner ring is a matter of seeking variety and novelty. The
motivational grouping of enjoyment fits best there.
As to the innermost ring, the enduring, inner circle of happiness
consists of meaningfulness caused by two factors. The first is the
warmth and depth of our ties to other people. The second is feeling
hopeful about our circumstances, because we control them and/or feel
that some reasonable degree of fairness will prevail. Yes, as a
motivation empowerment qualifies as having some degree of potential
pertinence but self-esteem and attachment carry the day.
How quickly will companies realize that, they have been tilting at
windmills for the decade we've been building advertising norms? The
answer may be a very long time given that the "me" and "we" of self-esteem and attachment, may seem to business leaders too soft when
compared to the aggressive, nature of invoking the empowerment motivation.
But not to make the adjustment is in marketing terms, having invoked
motivations that don't resonate as deeply as the ultimate value
proposition of looking out for me and mine, is foolish. Here's hoping
that for their brand sake, and the sake of their shareholders, that
companies soon endeavor to make an adjustment.
This material was drawn from Dan Hill's book About Face:
The Secrets of Emotionally Effective Advertising, Kogan Page, October 2010,