It's an implicit equation that has hamstrung Western civilization for
at least 300 years, and harmed the effectiveness of advertising equally.
I'm referring to the equation that judges rationality as superior to
emotions, with the former being the cherished fiefdom of male executives
at major companies and the latter the touchy-feely and not altogether
important province of female consumers. But the breakthroughs in brain
science over the past quarter century have laid that false duality to
rest: we're all primarily emotional decision-makers, and since everybody
feels before they think, objectivity is a myth and so is pure,
For ad agencies struggling to promote often undifferentiated offers,
what a relief. The days of being on-message can now give way to a
greater, truer reality. What's most important in 21st century marketing
will to be on-emotion, meaning to create the right emotion at the right
time, for the right audience, on behalf of the right positioning of a
But even with this new freedom to follow their correct instincts
(visuals and emotions win), the ad agencies have plenty of work of their
own cut out for them. After all, as a law suit from the NAACP alleges,
ad agencies have problems with diversity. For instance, as reported by
Advertising Age of the 58 Super Bowl spots where the identity of the
creative team could be affirmed, 92% of the creative directors were
Here's some help for them in overcoming blind spots:
1. To be on-emotion is also to be on-motivation. That figures, since the two words have the same root in Latin: to move,
to make something happen. Among the five core motivations of physical
satisfaction, empowerment, enjoyment, attachment and self-esteem, male
creative directors and the approximately 80% of CMOs who are men may be
equally to blame for the fact that in the ads my company has tested over
the past decade, 39% of them focused on enjoyment and 30% on empowerment.
Those are motivations that you could argue tilt masculine, especially
empowerment. But what are the motivations that create the most emotional
engagement and the greatest volume of positive feelings? They're the
motivations women understand and cherish: the greater intimacy of both
attachment (to others), and protecting one's self-esteem.
2. As fMRI brain scans have shown, mass murderers are literally cold
people. Their minds show less emotional activity than ordinary people.
So in advertising, so long as the emotions shown are authentic and not
ultimately detrimental to the branded offer, show some feelings. But
make them plausible.
Do we really need to see a parade of housewives gaga over holding a
conversation with Tidy Bowl Man? Condescension hurts. And speaking of
authenticity, make sure the smiles on display aren't faked: with the two
halfs of their brain literally connected a bit better than those of
guys, when we say a woman is in "touch" with her feelings, there's
3. Finally, values matter. As Carol King famously sang, "Is this just a
moment's pleasure? Will you still love me tomorrow?"
Feelings can be fleeting. But the feelings that matter long term are
those that reveal our personality (a hot head is somebody who is
frequently angry, for instance) and our value system, which is
distinctly ours and something we are deeply invested in emotionally.
Branding is in the final analysis entirely emotional, a matter of
building a relationship between a company and targeted consumers. So
don't expect cause marketing to fade.
Women in particular are looking for extra, emotional reasons why they
should care about a brand based on it caring about them, and the causes
that matter to them. What should go away, but probably won't on the
other hand, are gender portrayals that inadvertently or otherwise demean
women, thereby undermining self-esteem and inviting contempt for the
brands trying so hard to create a positive emotional bond to the
predominantly female shoppers of the world who pay their salaries by
making their purchases.
This material was drawn from Dan Hill's book About Face:
The Secrets of Emotionally Effective Advertising, Kogan Page, October 2010,