Brand Experience

Selling Emotion In Advertising: The Psychology of Effective Ads

The advent of non-traditional distribution channels brought on by advances in technology has raised a number of issues for advertisers. The consumer marketplace has become a dumping ground of sorts for a bevy of messages from companies telling us to buy more - and buy "better."

To reach us, ad agencies have tried numerous tactics including: cool graphics and effects, gorgeous models leading globetrotting lifestyles (who are not an accurate representation of "Joe and Jill" average), and promises that the product will deliver and meet our needs on numerous levels. Billions of dollars are spent delivering the message, but is the message really getting through?

When I think back to my days as a corporate sales representative, my business challenges were not unlike those faced by advertisers today. How do I come across as being "different" than my competitors - and succeed at having my product stand out amongst others that deliver similar experiences?

Looking back, the clincher to my biggest and most successful sales was based on an emotional element that I was able to add to the selling mix. Customers could have bought a similar product elsewhere, but they bought from me. If I was selling toys, then I would be able to use the "cute and fuzzy" factor as a lead-in to the sale. Key sales decisions were always a combination of both rational and emotional elements.

Emotion is important in selling because it leads to ownership and involvement. Remember the breakthrough success of the pet rock? Why else would anyone pay money for a rock in a box, other than the "cool" - and pride of ownership factors? The fact that the rock came with a handbook increased the emotional attachment of the rock to the owner. The success of the mood ring was based on similar principles. The product was even able to "predict" emotion through a display of colour on the owner's hand. We all knew it was a crock, yet we all bought it. In some strange way, we became attached to the idea that the ring could actually predict or reflect our mood. The experience became personal.

Just as in selling, the most effective ads reach us through their emotional appeal. By targeting our emotions, we are able to identify with the characters in the ad. Their story becomes our own.

When I think about great ads, I think of ads that struck a key emotional chord. There was something universal and "human" to the story. Examples of ads that catered to our emotions include:

The key to customer awareness and engagement can be found in this simple truism...people don't buy from companies - people buy from people.

What other ad campaigns can you think of that used emotion as a way to sell the product? Do you think this is an effective way of reaching consumers? Why isn't it used more often in advertising today?


Wagon Wheels (Reliving The Lunchbox Experience)

My parents were of European heritage so food was important to us. As a child attending public school in suburban Ottawa, my brothers and I rarely ate in the school cafeteria. Instead, my parents would make us lunches that we would schlep to school regardless of weather conditions (this included months of sub-zero temps as Ottawa was second coldest to Moscow).

In my early school days, I remember that plastic lunchboxes were all the rage. Not just any lunchbox, but the coloured “Thermos” ones that often came with pictures of your favourite superheroes or TV show characters. The lunchboxes would come with a good size Thermos container (attached with a clip) that would provide needed warmth with soup or hot chocolate on those endless bitterly cold winter days.

Included in my lunch would always be a sandwich – usually salami, cheese or peanut butter – to give us extra protein. Back then, our lunchboxes weren’t refrigerated at school so it’s amazing none of us came down with food poisoning. I still remember my parents buying those monster size salamis which sometimes looked like small baseball bats. Being a daughter of parents of European heritage, dessert was always a much anticipated treat to find in my lunchbox. If we were lucky, our lunches would also include a small size DelMonte pudding cup (usually chocolate). The cups came with sharp, pull off lids so you had to be careful they didn’t slice your fingers as you rushed to pull them off.

But the item that stands out the most as having the most impact on my day was when I saw a Wagon Wheel in my lunch. These tasty treats (resembling a Joe Louis by Vachon for those of you who grew up near Quebec) consisted of a generous portion of marshmallow sandwiched between two chocolate covered soft biscuits.

As a kid, I knew it would be a good afternoon if my lunch included a Wagon Wheel.

Today, the product hasn’t changed much except that with most consumer products, the size seems to have shrunken a bit. What’s funny is that I still occasionally buy it for a treat. The brand has the incredible ability to take me back to the carefree days of my childhood when a simple treat in my lunchbox was able to make my day.

Eating a Wagon Wheel makes me experience my childhood all over again as in spite of its seemingly smaller size, not much has changed with the product. The taste is still unique and I sense I am that same kid all over again.

What is it about some brands that make them so timeless?

I looked at the new packaging for Wagon Wheels and not much seems to have changed either except for the fact that I’m now looking at it from the eyes of an adult. The font looks the same (quite retro) and each piece is individually wrapped. In what is probably an attempt to bring us back to our Wagon Wheel roots, the company makes it a point of saying the product is “original.” Which is true, because that’s exactly how I remember them.

Yet what hit me the most on the package was the five word line printed directly below the product name “Ideal snack for the lunchbox.” The image right next to it features a yellow lunchbox with a Wagon Wheel and wrapper sitting directly outside of it.

What’s even more intriguing is that I wrote most of this post BEFORE I even took a look at the packaging. Dare Foods totally nailed it. As a consumer, you can’t get any closer to a brand experience than that.

In a world cluttered with competing messages, to me that’s brand genius. Timelessness, taste, experience and meaning make this one brand story that’s destined to be around for a long, long time.

Wagon Wheels






Nostalgic Over Heinz

Heinz is one of the world’s most iconic and memorable brands. To this day, I refuse to buy any other ketchup than Heinz ketchup. The topic of brand loyalty has long intrigued both manufacturers as well as advertisers and academics. What makes a brand so good – that consumers will go out of their way to buy it every time – regardless of price or the wide array of other options on the grocery shelf?

Iconic global brands have several qualities, but perhaps the most dominant is their ability to invoke some sort of emotional connection in the consumer. By consuming a product represented by a global brand, we are often transported to a different place and time. A time when things were simpler and less rushed. A time when we were perhaps surrounded by family gathered around the television set watching the Flintstones or Walt Disney.

Take Heinz spaghetti. To some, it might be just another option to soup on a cold winter’s day. But to me, the idea of eating Heinz spaghetti has a far deeper connection and meaning. Having grown up with 3 brothers, I remember us all eating Heinz spaghetti on (usually wobbly) TV trays  watching our old black and white TV on those long and cold winter days. On some days we might have come home for a quick lunch from school. My grandmother would open up a couple of cans, then serve them to us sprinkled with Kraft grated parmesan cheese.  I still remember shaking those large green containers with the red lids. I also remember watching the spaghetti boil as the odour of tomato sauce filled our house.

We loved Heinz spaghetti, and I still eat it today when I want to feel nostalgic. That’s one reason comfort foods exist. When it comes to brands, it’s not so much what they ARE – but what they DO to us that represents their true quality and value. A brand is a promise of quality, and I know that whether it’s today or 10 years from now, Heinz will still offer me the same quality product I experienced when I was 10.

Perhaps most importantly, it will offer me the same brand STORY I experienced when I was 10. Brands offer context, and whenever I eat Heinz spaghetti I’m transported back to childhood. It represents comfort food and reminds me of a time when we were all together as a family.

To me, it’s not just another can of convenience food. It’s a promise that what I experience when I eat it will contain good memories and will make me feel good about the purchase. That’s what iconic brands do – and will always continue to do. It’s what makes them unique.

Are there any other brands you can think of that offer you a similar story? Are all brand decisions based on price, or do you sometimes buy something just because it reminds you of another place and time?




Superbowl Envy: What Canadian Advertisers Can Learn From The Americans

I'm not a die hard football fan, but I tune into the Superbowl every year. I love the excitement of professional sports played out at an almost superhuman level. There's also a sought after entertainment factor which never fails to impress during the Superbowl. The half time shows are one thing, but there is also a sense of anticipation at being able to see the latest crop of advertising wizardry.

Yet every year around the water cooler, online and on radio stations across the country, the banter focuses on how much Canadians long to see the American commercials - as opposed to the often uncreative and (dare I say) unengaging Canadian ones. With some exceptions (McDonald's and BlackBerry were interesting this year), most Canadian commercials are, for lack of a better term, boring. If I have to see one more bank commercial I think I'm going to cry. And what's up with Bell? A communications giant, yet there's absolutely no creativity to their ads. To make matters worse, the same ads are run over and over again to the point where I start pressing the mute button every time they come on.

Come on people - it's Superbowl time! Engage me. Intrigue me. Make me want to talk about your brand in a positive way. Martin Short, one of the planet's funniest comedians, was introduced as a spokesperson for a contest run by the Lay's brand of potato chips. He's brilliant. But the jokes weren't funny.

What's missing in most Canadian commercials is a real understanding of story - and how it can engage a consumer by bringing up a positive memory - or tugging on their heartstrings. For brilliant examples of how to do this, check out the Budweiser, Dodge Ram and  Chrysler Jeep commercials which ran during the Superbowl. 

And even if the story is silly or stupid (as in slapstick comedy), it can have a huge impact on brand memory and recognition through its use of humour. Check out the Doritos commercial which uses a goat to get its point across. Story doesn't always have to be "deep."

It also doesn't have to be expensive. Look at Hollywood. Good storylines and interesting characters put Blockbusters and low budget movies on even playing fields. And that's before you factor in the benefits of social media.

Now I don't think for a minute that all Canadians nor all agencies are uncreative and boring. There are exceptions to what seems to be the norm. So whose fault is it? Are clients just not buying more creative pitches? Are Canadians really happy with the status quo and are they just unwilling to see riskier and more exciting commercials?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that both agencies and their clients need to take more chances. Don't tell me the great fuel economy I'll get by buying your brand of car. Don't tell me about the cool dashboard with the nifty new GPS device. So what. Every other car company is telling me the same thing.

Make me remember your brand. SHOW me how I can save mileage and how I can use the GPS device by telling me a story. Use that story about how, years ago, my first driving lesson was in a Ford station wagon. Transport that sense of fear and excitement to the ad. Show how my parents used to take the car on what seemed like endless summer road trips...and how they used maps to get us from Point A to Point B (not always successfully). And how today things have changed because gas mileage is better - and there are onboard TV screens to keep the kids quiet - and how GPS is used to navigate the new worlds of both superhighways and more remote destinations (and how unlike maps, they never require folding). 

Compare the old with the new. Because somewhere deep inside, your brand has earned a spot in my memory.

Engage me. Dazzle me. Get my emotions involved. But please don't bore me with an endless run of statistics and features. And really boring spokespeople.

It's time to battle Superbowl envy with story and lessen the gap between what Canadians want to see, and what they're getting. It's time for a cure.



Walt Disney On Why It's Not Good To Grow Up

As a child growing up in Ottawa, I was exposed to a world of imagination through music, reading and stories. My parents were originally from Europe and I was quickly introduced to fables and folklore from the "old country." An outgoing child, I would often take the outdoor stage at our favourite lake in the Gatineau Park and put on a show for my family. Acting, singing, writing - they were all part of who I was as a young child.

Unfortunately as I grew older and responsibilities started to take over, I lost my sense of imagination and some of my creativity. My life took a different direction, and I ended up in the world of the "practical" having to deal with deadlines, commitments and pleasing "stakeholders."

Once in a while, my sense of imagination and creativity make a re-appearance. It happens when I browse through antique markets, check out the dusty corner of a guitar store - or see a movie like Wes Anderson's recent Moonrise Kingdom - the story of rediscovering youth and imagination in the remoteness of small town America.

Walt Disney once said "Too many people grow up. That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be twelve years old. They patronize, they treat children as inferiors. Well, I won't do that." Words on which to build a marketing empire.

In a world full of complex ideas, quick fix hits and information measured in gigabytes - it's up to marketers to reinspire their audience to encourage them to act. More than storytelling, this requires the ability to "hit us" where it will have most impact. Find some way to connect your product with our youth. It's a powerful selling tool. Tom Peters said that a "brand reaches out with a powerful connecting experience." It's almost a primeval way of hitting us at the gut level to re-ignite something that has been lost for so many years.

Being an adult is definitely a wonderful experience. Yet the success of movies and books that cater to the imagination and one's inherent creativity tell me that there's a void in the lives of many adults. It's a void that makes people long for a simpler time - a time when being a child held all the magic and wonder of life - and the thought of growing up was a story yet about to unfold.


The Bistro On Main: Branding From A Foodie Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I took a road trip to Elora Ontario to check out an antiques fair. Pleasantly tired but starving, we were in the mood for a casual dining experience. Decked out in jeans, we didn't feel comfortable walking into a high end dining place nor did we want to shell out big bucks for the experience.

After a disappointing search in Guelph, we opted to head back to Toronto and stop off in Milton. After all, it was a road trip and we could eat in Toronto any day.

As far as dining goes, Milton offers one strip full of pubs and restaurants. Great variety - but the options were either too casual (ie. greasy foods) or too formal. Just when we were about to give up, we came across a lovely hip venue called The Bistro On Main.

Although there were what seemed like Christmas decorations in the window, we decided to give the place a chance. The menu looked perfect. Gourmet salads and sandwiches at very reasonable prices. The place is bistro-size (aka smallish) but that suited our needs just fine

Service was excellent, and the food was amazing. I expected "OK" food, but the experience told us that this place really cares about its customers. Great quality, at extremely reasonable prices. We could tell the chef really put a lot of effort into creating the best "sandwich" experience. I had grilled crabmeat and cheese which was incredible. The fresh wheat bread was a nice touch too. The more than generous portions meant we could take home enough food to cover our lunch the next day.

Now I'm not writing this solely to plug this place (but I'm giving it a huge thumbs up). My point is that there are lots of ways to make your brand stand out. Give me a good experience, and I will return. Not only will I return, but I will talk about it too. And those people will tell other people.

In the ultra competitive food business, there are way too many options for consumers. We gave this place a chance, and were extremely impressed. What counted most was the effort and care the owner (Jonathan Yau) put into every dish. The quality, the amount, the look, the seasoning, the all blended together into a delightful symphony of the stomach. And it didn't cost us a fortune for the experience.

Branding is about finding a way to make your business or name stand out. It's about your story, and the story you and your customers tell to other people. Set the precedent and give your customers a fabulous experience, and you will stand out and succeed.

And the next time you're in Milton, do stop in and say hi to Jonathan. And say Karen from Toronto sent you.








Coca-Cola Shares The Love With Launch of New Hug Machine

As part of its ongoing effort to engage customers in the brand experience, Coca-Cola has launched a novel idea called the Hug Machine. Launched at the National University of Singapore in March, the machine is part of the company's "Open Happiness" campaign that began in the US in 2009.

The giant red machine boasts the words "Hug Me" on the front and it contains no coin slot. When people hug the front of the machine it delivers a free can of Coke. Needless to say, the machine boasts an endless array of photo ops and YouTube clips which result in even more PR and brand coverage for the company.

Talk about establishing an emotional connection with the audience! Coca-Cola has always been a leader in the concept and technique of brand storytelling. As Schulich School of Business Marketing Professor Markus Giesler says "A brand that's high up on a billboard wants to dominate me, but a brand that can be hugged wants to be my friend."

Many of the world's most successful brands are able to create and maintain emotional relationships with customers. The more "human" marketers can make these brands, the better the chance of success. Not only is Coke's technique entertaining, it also fosters relationships and creates a sense of community. The next time participants walk down the supermarket aisle - which soft drink brand do you think they'll choose?

In the end, isn't it nice to know that you can still be successful by putting a smile on everyone's face?


New Orleans Best Brand Stories Are From The Streets

I recently returned from New Orleans where I attended the IABC Southern Region Conference. Having spent some time in the city earlier this year, I fell in love with the city's vibe, culture and people (not to mention the food). What struck me most on this trip were the amazing stories I heard from the locals. Stories of both extreme heartbreak and inspiration - many could be heard just by talking to people on the streets.

The last night of our trip was spent in a rather Bohemian part of the city called the Faubourg-Marigny. It is here that I met one of the area's most fascinating street poets - Matt. The idea was that Matt would listen to your story, then come up with a poem about your experiences. I'd heard about the concept in other American cities, and decided to test Matt's talents. In a manner true to form of a street poet, Matt was able to craft a poem that was not only witty - but was also able to capture the essence of how we felt on our last night in the city. Overjoyed about the people and places we saw on our trip, yet sad that we would be returning home soon.


In his book "Reinventing Work: the brand you 50", Tom Peters said that "A brand is a metaphorical story that's evolving all the time..." and that "stories create the emotional context people need to locate themselves in a larger experience." This is especially true in a city like New Orleans where stories - and the characters they represent - provide an outlet to the sometimes harsher aspects of life.

A great brand story can be found anywhere. The tagline for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau is "You're Different Here." It's true - although it's also true that things are different there. There's a spirit and resilience in the people of New Orleans that I haven't found matched anywhere else in the world.

One day while wandering through the French Market, I started chatting with a local jeweller. His brand is called "Art Made in the Ghetto." His pieces were amazing, and I ended up buying a few of them. His name is Russell Gore and his story is both heartbreaking and inspirational. Born into the "projects", Gore vowed to become a success and worked his way out of poverty to become a student of commercial art and photography. During Hurricane Katrina, his wife died in his arms. He fashioned a gold medallion out of his wife's gold and still wears it to this day. An incredible example of inspiration and success in the face of extreme poverty and heartbreak.

The story of New Orleans is the story of its people. Life is meant to be lived here. People realize that each day could be your last, and live their lives according to this belief. To experience New Orleans, is to be reminded that people's stories matter. They give life meaning - and give people a reason to believe and move on with their lives.

It is with this spirit and with the spirit of all the Matt's and Russell Gore's out there - that I encourage each and every one of you to just take a moment to enjoy life. Make it spontaneous - and don't forget to dance along the way.




Branding The 'Big Easy': Why New Orleans Has More Than One Story To Tell

Having recently returned from a wonderful trip to New Orleans, I find myself thinking about the people and places I've seen. When it comes to enriching and engaging experiences, New Orleans serves it all up in a rich cacophony of sights, sounds, tastes and aromas.

From the unbridled craziness of Bourbon Street, to the secluded wings of the Royal Sonesta Hotel - to the historical and magnificent seclusion of the grand plantations - New Orleans offers visitors an experience like no other. What's even more appealing about the place is the sense of warm hospitality offered by the locals. In some areas, it's as if time stood still. Feel an urgency to check emails every hour? Not on Louisiana time. Feel like dancing in the streets? Go ahead. Everyone else is doing it.

Historically, New Orleans (or NOLA) is a mix of stories from a range of backgrounds and cultures as rich and diverse as their own Louisiana gumbo. Spanish, Creole, Cajun, French - they all blend together in a rich symphony of fun and excitement that is New Orleans. The place is pure poetry - enchanting, intriguing, mystifying, engaging and welcoming.

To those of you who have never experienced NOLA, I urge you to go there. As a brand, the city has given itself the tagline "It's New Orleans - You're Different Here." I would expand that even further to say "It's New Orleans - Things ARE Different Here."  If great brands tap into emotions, then NOLA has it all. Just one visit will leave you with a powerful connecting experience that begs you to go back and do more.

New Orleans doesn't have just one story to tell. It's power and resonance as a brand come from its ability to meld a hundred different stories into one glorious place. But don't just take it from me. Take a look at this video narrated by NOLA's own Kermit Ruffins - trumpeter, singer and composer extraordinaire. May your journey always take you back to NOLA.


Heinz Ketchup Still Tops For "Every Hot Dog Story..."

While downing my cereal this morning, I was surprised to see a replay of the old 1985 Heinz ketchup commercial. Played to the tune of Cole Porter's "You're the Top", the commercial shows why Heinz ketchup is still the King of the condiment aisle.

The ad made me stop in my tracks and, for a moment, I was able to leave the world behind and relive my fond childhood memories of family dinners and BBQ's.

Heinz ketchup is a brand that has been able to reach and maintain iconic status. When I eat french fries, hot dogs or hamburgers...I don't just reach for any ketchup. I reach for Heinz.

The brand is celebrating 100 years of success in Canada, and is on the hunt for the fan of the century. Ketchup lovers are invited to submit stories online of why they think they qualify as the fan of the century. Fun facts and the chance to win instant prizes are also part of the contest website.

What is it about Heinz ketchup that helps it achieve such iconic status?

1) It's a great product. No matter where you go in the world, if they serve you Heinz ketchup you know it will have the same great taste

2) The brand tells a story. It brings back fond memories of family BBQ's, of the culture from which we come...of community events surrounded in good fun and well-being. Heinz has capitalized on the ability of its brand story to transport us to a different place and time

3) It has set the standard for quality in the market. I refuse to buy any other ketchup than Heinz

4) The ability to keep up with the times through an effective combination of music, advertising and technology. The ads are entertaining, and the company combines print and interactive campaigns in rather innovative ways

What are your memories of Heinz ketchup? What else has Heinz done to make it such an iconic brand? What stories do you relive by using Heinz ketchup?