Disney owns happiness. Ben & Jerry’s is about fun. Onida evokes envy. Benetton wears controversy. Apple rings into surprise. Nike plays on determination. Michelin drives guilt (based on the hook that otherwise you care two hoots about your family’s safety).
Welcome to the world of emotionomics or ads that are “on-emotion”.
Iconic brands try and own an emotion since their communication chiefs know that feelings often win over logic, hands down.
Today, though, savvy chief marketing officers don’t just tap into consumers’ emotions and reflect them in their communications. They start by strategically modelling the emotions they “want” the target audience to feel and the emotions they want to dispel, says Dan Hill, author of the recently released Emotionomics: Winning Hearts and Minds, which is making quite a splash worldwide. Hill is also president of Sensory Logic Ltd, which helps brands lead by feeling.
Hill identifies six universal core emotions: happiness, anger, disgust, surprise, sadness and fear, and a clutch of positive, negative and neutral secondary emotions that arise from intersections of the six primary emotions.
The creative will be relevantly on-emotion when “the emotions the target market is intended to feel will fit the dynamics of the offer, and the target market’s beliefs, values and sensibility without placing undue constraints on the creative”, says Hill in his book.
On-emotion branding is especially critical in a cluttered media space since it attracts consumer attention and recall, and forges loyalty that rivals can’t usurp. Consumers feel before they think, and feelings happen fast, notes Hill.
The focus on emotions is also being driven by a realization that the more conventional brand USP, or the so-called unique selling proposition, has fallen out of favour. That happened “mostly because marketers realized that functional differentiations were shortlived”, says Josy Paul, national creative director, JWT India. “So marketing managers moved to the next level, which is emotional differentiation, or ESP—emotional selling proposition.” And emotionomics is the modern avatar of this ESP.
One early ESP was the United Colours of Benetton campaign showing controversial images, such as a priest kissing a nun. It tapped into part outrage and part contempt for the squeaky clean advertising that surrounded most fashion brands in the late 1980s. Echoes of contempt resonate through fashion brands.
More obvious attempts by marketers to own an emotion include Fair & Lovely ( embarrassment); Wheel detergent bar (shame); HDFC Standard Life Insurance (pride) via its sar uthake jiyo pitch; Pepsi (irreverence) as in “nothing official about it”; Coke (happiness); and the popular Nike (determination) “just do it” approach.
“When brands take on higher-order emotions, they become iconic,” says Paul. “That’s because they’ve transcended the push and pull of commercial communication and hard-selling sales messages to become an integral part of the consumer’s everyday life. It slips under the radar of the consumer’s rational defences and touches a chord that he or she can’t fully control.”
Arvind Sharma, chairman, Leo Burnett India, cites how Procter & Gamble Co.’s Tide detergent seeks to evoke surprise, with its advertising line: chaunk gaye. The aim is to take drudgery out of laundry. Reliance Communications Ltd’s colour phones could not make novel rational claims around colour phones, so it chose to align with young Indians’ emotions. Its rang barse advertising line seeks to evoke the emotion of happiness and today Reliance Mobile is closely associated with colour phones.
Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, Brand-Comm Ltd, agrees that emotions make business sense as more and more products are me-too. He says advertising must strike a “‘Hey, it’s about me’ reaction from consumers.”
Emotional branding is fraught with risks though, say some marketers. Anand Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll brand & communications consultancy pvt. ltd, offers a couple of questions to ask in using emotions in communications.
For instance, does the emotion link to the brand or is it unlinked? A recent Nike commercial in India, with cricket being played on top of buses during a traffic jam, makes one excited about the passion that cricket can evoke. But would the same ad be doing a better job for, say, selling tickets to the cricket world cup? The question to ask, he says: What is the link between the brand and the emotion?
Halve also says that negative emotions must be handled with care. For instance, there was a commercial for Domex, which showed various germs that exist in homes and are then killed by Domex.
Only, he notes, the ad was revolting. “Remember, a lot of television is watched at dinner time,” he says. “I suspect viewers just turned off the channel because they did not want to be forced to see these gory details.”
A positive example of harnessing emotion is the commercial for Greenlam laminates, which flips the idea of being proud of a house. Instead of the usual host (or hostess) strutting about showing off the product in the house, the commercial shows them threatening a reluctant visitor to come and see their house. And the emotion evoked is the same: with Greenlam, you will have a house you will be proud of, says Halve.
“We don’t see too many brands sticking to their emotional propositions,” says JWT’s Paul. “Also, there are too many players trying to own the same emotion: happiness, harmony, joy. For emotionomics to work, marketers will have to move out of the safe emotional zones and explore more distinctive feelings.”