On tapping emotions

I’m a PR man, so I tell myself I inevitably neither “get” nor especially rate advertising.

I’m a fan of Seth Godin, so I agree with him when he says that advertising is a relic of the industrial and marketing age born of broadcast channels that blossomed in the middle of the last century (doesn’t that sound old), and that advertising interrupts in a way that we simply accept less and less.


I’m reading Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s book “Mad Men Unbuttoned”, which brings together AMC’s TV series with a real-world snap-shot of advertising and society in America in the 1950s and early 1960s.

One ad. leapt out at me in the book. It wasn’t DDB’s ad. for the Volkswagen Beetle. It was this one, for Western Union telegrams (also from DDB). It’s not one I’d seen before.

As chapter author Tim Siedell says, great ads (or, great communications) tap human nature and human emotions. This one does so better than most. That’s why, even today, when telegrams don’t exist anymore, it works. To my eye it eclipses most ads I currently try to ignore.

That this ad. seemed to work led me to a thought: those of us in the communications business often squirm when we want to talk about the power of words, or campaigns, or images – or stories – rather than the content. We squirm when we talk about how we can help our employers or clients tap emotions, even when we know that buying is ultimately an emotional decision, often based on psychological needs.

Why should we do so? Because we’re perhaps too bound up (overly, at any rate) with attempting to predict cause and effect. We’re too bound up with seeking to justify our programmes with a definite return on investment or effort.

(I love David Meerman Scott’s response to this question: he asks in return, what’s the ROI on Blackberries for the sales teams?)

Presenting facts is easy. Any well-laid out product or service data sheet does the trick.

Ask yourself this, though: when was that enough to make you say “OK, I’ll take three”?

Of course, the facts don’t make people do things. Something else needs to take place.

So perhaps the debate should not be a closed-minded one about advertising-versus-PR-versus-new-media-versus-old (mea culpa).

Perhaps, instead, it should be a debate about emotions, about weaving together compelling stories that trigger amazement, or wonder, or intrigue, or investigation, or alignment, or the desire to partner with some other person in some other organization.

Isn’t that why we do what we do? (Isn’t that what the Royal Wedding did?)

About alansmithoz

Head of Strategic Business Communications at Australian social analytics technology company Digivizer, with a background in corporate public relations and marketing. I do what I do because I believe communications can make a difference.
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