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.




The Psychology of Selling - The Cheskin Way

While wandering around an old bookstore one day, I picked up a copy of Louis Cheskin's book "Secrets of Marketing Success - An Expert's View on the Science and Art of Persuasive Selling." Originally published in 1967, the book is a gem offering keen insights into the psychology of selling, and tells us how and why people buy.

Cheskin was a motivational researcher who sought to understand how consumer's perceptions motivated their purchase behaviour. He coined the term "sensation transference", and spent most of his life researching how people's perceptions of products or services were directly related to aesthetic details of their design. He consulted with companies such as Standard Oil, Betty Crocker, Phillip Morris and Ford on issues including logo and package design, new product launches and advertising and brand campaigns.

The interesting premise in Cheskin's book is his return to the basics of selling and communications, and how he incorporates them into marketing and advertising challenges. He lists the four pillars of marketing as: 1) Product quality 2) Packaging or styling that has psychological appeal 3)Advertising that communicates and motivates and 4) Price that is right for the specific type of consumer.

His most interesting commentary can be found in points #2 and #3. To Cheskin, not only must packaging be designed to be an effective marketing tool, it must also "communicate graphically and semantically" to the consumer. The aesthetic design will determine how the consumer reacts to the product.

On an advertising and communications level, Cheskin claims that "advertising, like the package, has to communicate on an unconscious, as well as on a conscious level - semantically and graphically." The appeal must not only be rational in its foundation, but have an emotional undertone as well.

How often is this done today? I see ads over and over again on television, but I couldn't tell you from one day to the next which brands they represent! (not an efficient way to spend advertising dollars!) What's missing in a lot of advertising is not only a great degree of thought and creativity, but an appeal to my emotions that would encourage me to ACT. To me, most television advertising is so annoying, that I actually purposely don't buy products if they represent an annoying commercial. As early as 1967, Cheskin claimed that "much advertising suffers from an abundance of creativity and a lack of motivating communication."

For advertising and marketing to be effective, they must also be persuasive. Think of the old sales term AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action). If an ad or marketing campaign isn't persuasive, it won't motivate consumers to take action and a decline in sales will be the result. Simple in theory, but not practiced too highly today. To be successful, practitioners must take into account the psychological effect of a product or service as well, in order to motivate consumers to take action. 

What's interesting about Cheskin's approach is that he took the science of selling and marketing to a more subconscious level. We don't always buy what we see, we may also buy what we FEEL. When Cheskin worked with Ford on the name of a new car, he encouraged them to change the name "Impala" to "Mustang", based on the fact that "Mustang" had emotional meaning to most Americans (ie. "rugged and fast"). The Impala might run away, but the American consumer could control a Mustang.

Cheskin was a true visionary in his time, and many of his findings are still applicable today. He predicted that advertising would eventually take on the "character of entertainment, with emphasis on humour"...a fact that holds true today.

Perhaps Cheskin's ideas hold the key as to why some products or services succeed today, and why others fail.

The Science of Selling - Going Back to the Basics

When I graduated from University with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree, there were only two viable options for employment - Accounting and Sales. Being a "people" person, I was eager to apply my skills and education to the real world and took a territory sales position with NCR Canada in Toronto.

Being new to sales, I quickly learned that success depended on certain key factors: strategic planning and goal setting, persistence, advanced communications and customer service skills, product knowledge and even a bit of creativity, psychology and showmanship. A little empathy didn't hurt either. I adapted well to my new industry, and received the CPC (Century Points Club) award for Excellence in Selling.

Traditionally viewed through the stereotype of a car salesman(person), selling has had its share of image problems. When I joined NCR in 1985, I was given a book called "Open the Mind and Close the Sale" which was written by a former VP Sales for NCR, John M. Wilson. The original version was published in 1953, but many of its ideas are still relevant today.

In the book, Wilson tells us that John H. Patterson, the original founder of NCR, believed that selling was a "science to be studied just as law, medicine, or engineering are studied." He explained that salesmanship was the "power or ability to influence people to buy - at a mutual profit - that which he has to sell."

In his best-selling book "How to Win Friends and Influence People", Dale Carnegie tells us that "the only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want, and show them how to get it." He tells us that the key to dealing with people is to remember that "we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity." These words were originally published in 1936 and just as in Patterson's case, they still ring true today.

In a world that offers consumers and companies limitless ways to connect, there still seem to be numerous examples of miscommunication and an ample supply of customer service horror stories. Perhaps what we've forgotten is a real ability to connect with people. After all, people communicate. Technology is just the vehicle through which we communicate. To study sales and to do it well requires not only an understanding of the logistics end, but also a keen understanding of human behaviour. It helps to understand what makes people "tick" at sometimes very deep levels, and to find ways to address that need. Many buying decisions involve both logical and emotional factors, and effective salespeople and marketers must find ways to address both.

As we advance towards a more wired universe, let's not forget about people. There will still always be room for conversation at the corner store, or around the family dinner table. Sometimes just being remembered and treated well is enough to make me want to return to a store, or buy a certain product or service. Perhaps by returning to the basics of true salesmanship and looking at buying behaviour through the eyes of a scientist, companies will be better able to connect with consumers at a level that hits us deep within our core.