There’s a fashionable school of thought in the advertising business right now. Get people to love your brand and they’ll buy it.
No need for reasoning and logic. It’s as simple as that. That’s all you need to do. Don’t worry about saying anything about your product that might actually be helpful to someone who might want to buy it. Just fill your ad with a cute and cuddly owl, kitten, puppy, budgie, pony or monkey and you’ll give people a warm glow inside that will make them favourably disposed towards your brand. At the moment it seems that not a commercial break goes by without some kind of fluffy animal playing a starring role - as ads for the likes of McVitie’s, Tic Tac, Freeview and 3 all testify. Received wisdom is that by focusing on generating a purely emotional response from an ad you will be able to change consumer attitudes towards your brand. And then a change in consumer behaviour will follow
The belief that you must create an emotional bond with an audience to get them to love your brand and connect with them seems to be treated like gospel.
And that’s leading to more and more fluffy, happy-clappy advertising being produced that is desperate to own some kind of emotional territory.
And so out come the owls, puppies and kittens to manipulate the emotions of an audience lacking the intelligence and free will to make any kind of purchasing decision based on reasoning or logic.
Agencies will claim that advertising an attitude or an emotion that your brand can own is essential to help differentiation. All products are the same, we live in a parity world, so their argument goes. Their party line is that the emotional battleground is where brands fight it all out. It’s what people feel that’s all-important, not what they think.
However, this obsession with chasing some kind of brand love is rarely reciprocated from a consumer perspective. They just don’t care about brands anywhere near as much as people who work in advertising agencies like to think they do.
It’s also eminently possible to buy a product without actually liking the brand. I’m an o2 customer. I’ve got a tariff that seems fair enough. Price-wise and service-wise, they’re OK. I do not, however, want to ‘Be More Dog.’ I like a nice pint of Guinness. Especially from establishments where I know it’s going to be poured well in a proper glass and left to settle properly. But when I’m drinking it I do not consider it to signal to pub clientele that I am in fact ‘Made of More.’ Contrast that with the famous ‘Good Things Come To Those Who Wait’ campaign where the idea sprang from the product and made a benefit of the amount of time it takes to pour a pint of Guinness correctly
In Byron Sharp’s book How Brands Grow, he demonstrates that the influence of attitudes on behaviour is astonishingly weak while the influence of behaviour on attitude is very strong.
Yet the advertising industry continues to confuse cause with effect. It’s not “I buy it because I like the brand.” The reality is that “I like the brand because I buy it.”
Attitudes and brand beliefs tend to reflect behavioural loyalty and purchasing patterns rather than operating as the things that stimulate them.
Sure, it’s not as black and white as product = bad, emotions = good. Great advertising should do both. But It is possible to put the product at the heart of an advertising idea and generate important emotional associations at the same time. The likes of Lurpak, Aldi, Stella Artois and apple have all consistently shown it’s possible to create desire in this way.
But it’s very dangerous to assume there are any laws of advertising. But it’s an even more dangerous assumption that advertising should work to change attitudes first rather than work to change behaviour.
Pursue that assumption at your peril.
Andrew Palmer is managing partner at Sell! Sell!