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?


“Trumped”: Get Your Narrative Right and You Could Win the White House

Love him or hate him, few would disagree that Donald Trump is a master storyteller. Politics aside, Trump was the true underdog both within and outside of his own party.

Obama and many others skewered him in public. The media would often sway between sensationalism to downright skepticism in their reporting of all things Trump. Yet what the skeptics didn’t know or understand was that Trump was playing right into the hands of the American electorate.

People love the underdog story. Most can identify with what it’s like to be the outsider. It seemed that no matter what Trump said or did, he couldn’t lose. And people want to support a winner.

Perhaps even Trump himself was surprised that he was able to win over America to claim the highest office in the land. The fact is that Donald Trump is a genius at getting inside the zeitgeist of a population and in reading what it is exactly that people want. And it was time for change. Fed up with the status quo and their place in life, Trump gave his supporters what they wanted to hear. Like Superman rushing to save the screaming masses from a burning building, he was their hero and promised to fix things if they gave him a chance.

Many underestimated Trump. What his opponents and skeptics did was fail to see that through his storytelling and ability to read the current narrative playing out in America, he was able to tap into something so deep that no one else was able to reach it.

While there were many reasons that led to Trump’s victory, from a story perspective he hit all the right buttons.

Here’s what Trump did right:

  1. He tapped into people’s emotions and took them on an emotional journey. Great stories are built on great characters and he was able to create a persona for himself that instinctively drew people to his rallies by the tens of thousands
  2. He focused on what was really going on with the American people in a way that more seasoned politicians just failed to see. He read the narrative and followed the script. America was fed up and wanted to be great again. Trump offered a way out and his unconventional personality was able to draw people to his ideas
  3. His journey had many similarities to those experienced by heroes in the classic book by Christopher Vogler “The Writer’s Journey.” It’s almost as if Trump’s actions followed those in a dramatic movie script. There was a Call to Action, which led to the Hero’s Journey. Along the way, there were antagonists (or one key one – Hillary Clinton), tests, allies and enemies. After numerous challenges the hero crosses the threshold and returns with the ultimate prize – the White House

To quote Campbell, “Every storyteller bends the mythic pattern to his own purpose or the needs of her culture. That’s why the hero has a thousand faces.”

Great stories are mythic in nature and speak directly to the human spirit.They tap into a mythological core that teaches us something about ourselves.

From a storytelling perspective, Trump nailed it on all levels. Add to that his brand of authenticity yet unseen in the world of Washington politics and he proved to be a worthy opponent.

For Donald Trump, his final act is yet to be written. In the meantime, there will be more tests, allies and enemies along the way as he leaves the ordinary world and prepares to enter the brand new world of politics.




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






Why Objects Matter

Stories are all around us. They're part of our DNA. From our earliest childhood, most of us can remember the sound of Mom or Dad reading stories to us. Stories of superheroes, folktale legends or just simply stories about some pretty wild and wacky characters entertained us for hours on end. The best childhood stories were able to draw you into a plot and world quite different from your own. Worlds where the good guys often won and imaginations ran free.

As we grew up, stories took on a whole new meaning. The books we read and films we watched reflected our "coming of age." As we struggled to find our place in the world, we hoped that stories would help us find meaning in our somewhat confused and chaotic lives. Sometimes we relied on heroes to provide a path through darkness to light. At other times, stories were just a means of escape, a way to temporarily leave the present world to experience a new one in print, on stage or on screen.

While enlightened companies are waking up to the fact that stories can help their brands better connect to consumers, stories can also be of great personal significance when they're a reflection of the objects we own. These objects, artifacts or "Narrative Assets," tell the story of our lives and as a group, can even reflect the story of an entire culture or nation.

Every object, or artifact has a story. Not only does it have a particular meaning for the owner, but it can also have broader implications as well. People are naturally curious beings. Just look at the popularity of museums, art and photography exhibits, antique fairs, movies and social media. We all like to share stories about what's important to us in our lives. Artifacts are one way to help us understand our place in the world.

By relating a story to an object, we're able to connect with others on an emotional level who may or may not have gone through a similar experience. Humans are naturally curious beings and are drawn to objects. What does an object represent? Who owned it? What's it made of? How old is it? and "What's its story?"

Artifacts taken from the site of world changing events can be an important source of reflection. For example, artifacts gathered from Ground Zero were placed in a museum honouring the heroes of that dark day in our history. Artifacts can represent stories that invoke either good or bad memories, but their significance to an individual or to society in general is equally important in that they serve as connecting points to our own community - or to the world in general.

Perhaps more than anything, objects and artifacts have the amazing ability to transcend time and space. When an object is passed on to another generation, that generation bears the weight and responsibility of keeping its memories alive. It's as if the original owner passes his or her story down to future generations through a particular object of great personal importance.

This blog will attempt to find meaning in otherwise everyday objects. In some cases, they may have little significance to the reader - but by adding a story the purpose of the object and its emotional relevance will become clear and generate a life of its own. So whether you're a company looking for innovative ways to showcase your brand, or an individual curious to hear or share some really cool stories, I invite you to take and share in this journey through the fascinating world of "Narrative Assets." Feel free to post your own stories and pictures along the way. I hope you enjoy the adventure.

(Image from



Dare to Be Different: Try Giving Away Chocolate Cake!

Nl0106_cake2_eArmed with determination, years of experience and dogged persistence, I am (as are countless others) looking for ways to differentiate myself and my service amongst a slew of competitors in the marketing communications industry.

By now, I've read the books, joined countless networking groups - collected references, given speeches, taught courses, written articles, poured over business directories, started a blog - all in an effort to get noticed. What struck me as perhaps a bit ironic, is that after all of my efforts, what people seem to really remember me by is my chocolate cake. Let me explain.

Months ago, I baked a chocolate cake for my husband's birthday. Unable to eat the whole thing, he took a few leftovers to his office where the response was quite overwhelming. Not only were his co-workers appreciative, but they now connect my name to the chocolate cake. Last week, just before the company bake sale, an employee asked if I was to be bringing in any more of that cake. I haven't even met these people, and they've now built a connection to me through food.

If branding is really all about experiences and making emotional connections, then the process of baking and sharing that cake distinguished me from other people. It helped me stand out, if only from a personal perspective. In spite of my other more traditional efforts, I discovered that a very effective way to get people to remember you is by appealing to their appetite! Sometimes, what people really need is comfort food - or at least the feeling that in the middle of all the chaos, all is well for a moment.

What have you done to help distinguish yourself from the competition? Have you given away something that helped people remember who you are? Are you willing to share a few of your more unique ideas?

Brand NASCAR - A Tribute to Working Class America

Last night I watched a great special on ESPN on the origins of NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). Although I don't follow NASCAR, I was compelled by its brand story. The brand has its roots in the southeastern U.S., where bootleggers and rumrunners developed a passion for racing each other on twisty mountain roads. Its reputation for being a backwoods sport earned it a "redneck" following whose fans, coming from mostly working class backgrounds, reflected the true essence and spirit of the American people. Fiercely loyal and proud, many deemed it as "their sport." They saw it as part of them, a true reflection of who they were as a people.

On a brand level, brand recognition and loyalty seemed second to none. The NASCAR community shared a sense of ownership in the brand, and being part of the community meant you were really a participant in the brand story.

This sense of ownership and pride is what many companies strive for in creating brands. But what did it mean, exactly, for these fans to experience NASCAR? I found the answer in the words of an ex-Vietnam vet who, while sitting in a tattoo parlour, was about to receive a tatoo with the name of his hero, Dale Earnhardt. He said that the whole thing was about "a commitment to a way of seeing things."

Perhaps his words best describe the essence of a brand. It may explain why some brands succeed, while others fail.  Successful brands are able to tap into people's roots, and enable people to be part of a loyal community who share similar views and ideas. There's a sense of being a member in a successful club, no matter what your background.

Over the years, the nature of NASCAR changed with the entrance of drivers like Jeff Gordon. While increasing amounts of corporate sponsorship attracted new fans, it detracted many whose roots still lay in the dirt roads of the southeastern U.S.

Although the preferred beverage of choice at many events may have changed from beer to wine, the sport will always be a reflection of what seems to be a killer combination in the branding world: sex, speed, and entertainment.

But that's just the way I see it.


James Bond Martini Stirs Up Debate

In a recent issue of Advertising Age, brand guru Martin Lindstrom tackles the issue of brand confusion over James Bond's martini. His video report, entitled "When Branding Rituals Go Bad", discusses the advantages and disadvantages of brand ritual stereotyping. Lindstrom interviews Bacardi Global Brands VP Robert Ferniss-Roe to find out how James Bond films' martini mystique became a double-edged sword for his firm.

It seems that, as other companies bought product placements in future installments of the movies, there was confusion over the authenticity as to which type of martini Bond actually drank. What Bond drank in subsequent movies didn't seem to fit the original story.

To add to the confusion, Ferniss-Roe says that in Europe, Martini is known as a brandname - whereas in North America, it's associated with a cocktail. According to him, the challenge in brand ritual marketing is to get people to see brands out of context, in places where they might not expect to see them. For example, Bombay Sapphire gin might be placed at art shows or in upscale hair salons to gain further brand recognition and growth.

Lindstrom concludes the interview with three key points:

1) Brand rituals can be powerfully beneficial, or they can stereotype brands, hindering growth

2) Brand authenticity is prime - don't manipulate rituals to fit a product placement

3) Brand rituals gain power when experienced out of context. Surprise us!

Amazing how a martini can shake up the brand world.


Chasing Cool to Stay Hot

A recent article in Brandweek Magazine featured an interview with Noah Kerner, co-author of the new book "Chasing Cool - Standing Out in Today's Cluttered Marketplace."

Creating a successful product or service that is worthy of "cool" is every marketers dream. But what is it, exactly, that defines a product or service as "cool"?

In the book, Kerner and co-author Gene Pressman interviewed branding legends and mavens, to find out why some brand personalities worked, while others didn't. The difficult part is that everyone has a different opinion as to what "cool" really is. More often than not, the term is applied to someone who has created something using an independent vision - versus someone who relied on everyone else's perceptions to create their product or brand.

Kerner mentions the vodka Grey Goose as an example of a brand that has achieved a surprising level of "cool." To create cachet for the brand in a market where vodka is deemed as the ultimate commodity, Grey Goose took the product and shipped it from France, because France is perceived as being high-end.

To Kerner, being "cool" means working not only on authenticity, but on aspirational aspects as well. He describes aspiration as "striving for what you don't or can't have", and explains that since so much action is driven by aspiration, marketers have to go beyond thinking about demographics to reach a certain level of "cool."

No matter what the age, everyone is constantly striving to reach the next level of action in their life. If marketers can speak to this need in a genuine way, they may be on the road to developing a product worthy of "cool."

In the words of former Nike and Starbucks marketing executive Scott Bedbury, "It's possible to be both mainstream and edgy. You can be the Goliath but you always have to think and behave like the David."

Brand Canada

On the eve of Canada's national birthday, I feel compelled to write a few thoughts. If every brand tells a story, then Canada's is one of adventure...of pioneering spirits...of survival and hope in a brave new land. Not quite a world power, we're sometimes content to sit on the sidelines. What we lack in power, we make up for with a fierce sense of Canadian pride. We're proud of who we are, and of the stories that make us unique.

We offer a unique combination of untouched, raw wilderness and dynamic world-class urban centres. Our hospitable reputation makes us a magnet for tourists from all over the globe.

Canada, to me, will always mean weekends and summers at the lake. The shrill cry of the loon as I guide my canoe through calm waters. The sound of my skis as I race down the Kandahar run at Mt. Tremblant resort. The interest expressed by European tourists when they find out I'm from Canada. The ritual of sipping that Tim Horton's coffee while travelling down the 401. And the pure joy and satisfaction of claiming that "I Am Canadian!"

Happy Birthday Canada.

Timeless Brands

As a kid, I found I was affected by commercials for certain brands. For some reason, I found myself singing the old jingle for Coca-Cola ("I'd like to teach the world to sing...") while diving off rocks in our favourite Quebec lake. The words in that ad had the ability to move me in a way that made me feel alive, as if the world I was in at the time really was "the real thing."

When I was sick and my Mom offered me Campbell's chicken soup, I knew that the brand would "take care" of me and I would be feeling well again soon. The soup also tasted good...just like the old slogan said it would.."M'm! M'm! Good."

To this day, when I hear the old jingle for Coke or see an ad for Campbell's soup, it transports me to another place and time - just for an instant. Now that's brand recognition.

In his book "The Brand You 50", Tom Peters quotes Scott Bedbury. Bedbury, a senior ad and marketing executive, is best known for his work on brand development for Nike and Starbucks. He suggests that the ultimate value of brand is a result of how we experience it.

To Bedbury "A great brand taps into emotions...Emotions drive most, if not all, of our decisions. A brand reaches out with a powerful connecting experience. It's an emotional connecting point that transcends the product...A great brand is a story that's never completely told. A brand is a metaphorical story that's evolving all the time...Stories create the emotional context people need to locate themselves in a larger experience."

Marshall McLuhan may have agreed. In the book "Marshall McLuhan and Virtuality", Christopher Horrocks states that the concept of immersion applies to McLuhan's observation that "electric media" transport us instantly wherever we choose. McLuhan's work suggests that it's not the type of media that matters, but the effect the medium has ON us, that causes us to react a certain way. Just how we react to certain media provides clues for marketers as to how to create engaging experiences. 

This whole idea of being "immersed" in an experience has been capitalized on by Hollywood throughout the ages. How many times do we "lose ourselves" in a movie, only to feel that we're being transported to another place and time?

What does all this mean for brand marketers? It means that when you create a brand, or design a campaign to advertise a brand, give us something interesting and real. Tell us a story - use emotional appeal so we can connect a positive experience with your brand. Make it memorable. Appeal to our senses and show how others like myself have used the product to escape everyday life - if only for a moment.