Marketing to Emotion

April 28, 2016

Marketers are doing a little less, “Let me tell you what you need” and a little more, “Let me tell you a story,” going a step further with branding by emphasizing its emotional resonance through a narrative. It’s no longer as important to show off a product with static content as it is to create a story that unites it with emotion, with the consumer playing an active role as creator.

This means that sometimes, to pack a powerful emotional punch, brand needs to have a cameo, not the starring role, in the advertisement. Take, for example, three commercials that were popular in 2013.

The first is from Chipotle with a follow-up to their earlier “Back to the Start” campaign. Entitled “The Scarecrow,” a beleaguered scarecrow tries to bring a little hope with fresh food to a dystopic world overrun with machines and genetically-modified meat:

Before the last few seconds, this could be an advert for a health food store like Whole Foods Market or for branded vegetable producers like Green Giant or a public service announcement paid for by a farming association or PETA … but the last thing to come to mind is a fast-food chain. The company’s mission to turn the public’s perception of fast-food on its head is accomplished based solely on choosing exactly the right story to tell and executing it flawlessly.

This second ad, from Skype, shows how two girls from separate ends of the world, both without fully-formed left arms, were able to connect and build a friendship over Skype for eight years before finally getting to meet in person:

Despite being an ad for an online communication service, much of the commercial takes place offline and puts heavy emphasis on the joy of physical touch. However, the brand is kept top-of-mind by reminding viewers throughout the video that none of this real-life happiness could have been possible without Skype.

And the third, from Thai mobile company True Move H, takes storytelling even further with a heart-wrenching tale about the importance of altruism and family … and no mention of the product until the last 10 seconds:

The cinematic commercial is connected to the company with a single line about communication, and for non-Thai speakers, the fact that it is a mobile phone service may go completely unrealized … a risky tactic. But with almost 150 million YouTube views, the ambitious storytelling element clearly trumps any language barriers and makes the brand’s message lasting and memorable.

An important element of narrative marketing is not completing the story … leaving it open-ended leads consumers to add their own thoughts and connect the message with the brand themselves. Does the scarecrow defeat the machines (with Chipotle’s high standards)? Do the noodle shop owner and the doctor keep in touch (perhaps through True Move H)? Do the girls continue their friendship after finally meeting (and do they do so with Skype)? In an age where virtually any question can be answered online – satisfying the analytical left side of the brain – brands need to bring an unexpected narrative to engage the empathetic right side and evoke an emotional reaction.

The trick – as storytelling grows in popularity and more brands try their hands at it – is to have the talent to know how to go beyond the superficial and capture the ever-elusive genuine human, emotional response. If you’re looking for that genuine connection for your brand, email us at