Don’t Forget the Flowers – How to make the most of the most emotional medium

By Egotist / /

On Super Bowl Sunday, the advertising world will once again embrace one of its oldest mediums. It’s one of the rare days on the calendar where everyone is seemingly watching and talking about the same things. (Some of those things being television commercials.)

Culturally, we love film. It’s undeniable. Why? Perhaps the reason is that the medium’s greatest strength is its capacity to make us feel something.

Whether you’re talking about a movie, a web film, or even a tv commercial, the medium has an emotional power over us that is second to none. But for most of the year, too many marketers misinterpret the power of the medium to be one of reason rather than one of passion.

We are emotional creatures.

Marketers like to believe that people think before they act. But usually, and almost imperceptibly, consumers actually act long before they think. Famed economist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman believes that upwards of 95% of our decisions are made emotionally.

What too many marketers fail to realize is that consumers actually make two purchases. The first, and often most-overlooked, purchase is the emotional one. The second purchase is transactional. And after both purchases are made, we rationalize why we’ve done what we’ve done.

The fact is that when it comes to decision making, it is the human heart that is at the wheel.

Now, it goes without saying that the impulses, desires, and emotional responses of the human heart are endlessly nebulous and complex. So why are so many marketers trying to reason with it?

The heart understands things years before the mind can even begin to unpack them. If the human heart were easy to reason with, there would be no heartbreak. No divorce. No sadness. No great songs, books or movies. It would be a world of Swiss predictability. And we are all better off that it is not.

Love is Irrational.

When you are asking someone to buy your product, you’re in essence asking them to marry you. You’d better make sure you don’t skip the romance part of that proposition. Film has an enormous power to seduce. And being rational in the art of seduction will get you nowhere.

Generally speaking, a man does not typically approach a woman in a bar and say, “I make $500,000, I drive a Ferrari, I’m a hedge-fund manager, and I can bench press 300 pounds. Marry me.” Why? Because unloading all of the rational reasons for someone to like you is the quickest way to have them actually NOT like you. The path with the best odds is to be charming, to make her laugh, make her remember you and to make her want to learn more. Yes, it requires more effort. And it takes longer. But it also lasts longer.

Over the past few years, Microsoft spent several billion dollars marketing all the rational reasons for you to buy the Microsoft Surface. Do you know anyone who owns one? Me neither.

The truth is that love almost universally develops from the irrational, and is then solidified by the rational. On the contrary, people do not fall in love for rational reasons, and then fall more deeply in love for irrational reasons.

Rational Arguments Don’t Work in Emotional Situations.

In Monty Python’s Holy Grail, there is a great scene that embodies this idea. An English Lord who presides over the Swamp Castle is trying to convince his son to enter into an arranged marriage in order to expand the family’s fortunes. For reasons quite clear to the viewer, the young man isn’t interested in marrying this woman. Nonetheless, the father tries to convince the boy to proceed with the ceremony:

“You don’t like her?? What’s wrong with her?? She’s beautiful! She’s rich! She’s got huge….tracts of land!”

The scene eventually devolves into the young man being rescued in a bloody escape, creating what is actually the original ‘Red Wedding’. Marketers should view this allegory as a cautionary tale: trying to use a rational argument in an emotional decision can end very, very badly.

Always Be Closing.

It’s no secret that brands turn to emotion to win on Super Bowl Sunday. But sadly, too many marketers are missing out on winning people over the other 364 days of the year. And for a fraction of the price.

There are many marketers doing the “responsible” thing by making a rational argument with limited marketing funds. But if you have a weak brand, using film in a rational way is not only a missed opportunity, it is the least responsible thing you can do with your money.

Admittedly, it is a rare occasion that someone sees a commercial and immediately heads to purchase. But purchase decisions are won bit by bit through a series of emotional buy-ins. And film is without question more powerful than any other medium at closing this emotional gap. In the long term, that’s the most important transaction of all. When you look at the brands that are growing the most quickly, they are brands that are closing this emotional deal over and over and over again.

Love often begins with a small gesture, and it grows over time. When it comes to making an emotional impact, nothing makes the flame burn brighter than the small gesture of film. So when it comes to film, the appeal to our emotions should be without end. Not just one day a year. Which is to say, should you be fortunate enough to get someone to fall in love with you, don’t just send them flowers on Valentine’s Day.


Tom Scharpf is a Creative Director at Venables Bell & Partners