True emotional advertising can be seen as the game of high street retailers and large chains, but the fundamentals of what makes those adverts (Christmas or not) successful are simple and easy to apply to any advertising.
Over the last 10 years, the John Lewis model of Christmas advertising has become the gold standard.
And in an ideal world, one where the word 'budget' hasn't made it's way into the dictionary, we'd all be running these campaigns, wouldn't we?
But, there is still hope. The fundamentals of what makes John Lewis Christmas adverts and other narrative heavy advertising campaigns effective can be carried into your own advertising, big or small, visual or auditory. You just need to understand how these adverts impart their emotions and turn them into actionable impulses.
Here's what we'll be looking at today:
Why emotion is important
Although most people jump straight to clumsy puppies or crying babies when thinking about emotional response, it's probably more accurate to say that we have an emotional response to any and all stimulus.
According to Dan Hill in Emotionomics: Leveraging Emotions for Business Success, It takes less than three seconds to have a gut reaction:
“Emotions process sensory input in only one-fifth the time our conscious, cognitive brain takes to assimilate that same input.”
Emotional response and triggers are the building blocks of the world around us.
From the visual and auditory cues early man would get from predators and dangers to the cry of a baby we're hardwired to respond to certain stimuli with emotions which trigger action. Fight, flight, nurture or delight.
It was only natural that we, as intelligent beings, would recognise this as an opportunity for us to persuade, manipulate and influence.
But it's not without its critics.
Many people believe emotions take a negative role – keeping us at arm’s length away from rational decision making.
Instead, it would appear that the opposite is the case.
As Douglas Van Praet, author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing, wrote in Fast Company:
“The most startling truth is we don’t even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions are the substrate, the base layer of neural circuitry underpinning even rational deliberation. Emotions don’t hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they’re made!”
And according to a study conducted at the University of California at Santa Barbara which indicates that in situations in which we are moderately angry our ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant claims in disputed issues is sharpened.
Once we understand how fundamental emotions are to our decision making, we can begin to appreciate how and why an approach grounded in the ethereal (emotions and feelings) can actually lead to an improvement in the tangible (revenue and associations).
With that in mind, let's move on to breaking down some adverts and distilling them into lessons you can apply to your advertising.
1. strong branding at key times
What makes the John Lewis Christmas advert effective is quite simple: it's imparting and exploring powerful sentiments with strong branding to build associations.
Their Christmas adverts usually impart powerful memories and feelings at the end of the narrative. A crescendo of emotions is almost always hallmarked with the iconic John Lewis logo.
Without strong branding, all the hard work you've put into building up those emotions is lost. Effectively you've run without a call to action. You've given no direction to your customers
Advertising in most cases is a means to an end, a solution to a problem. This almost always leads to advertisers having a clear understanding of the goal of their advertising. Theoretically if you've got a reason to be advertising, then you really have no excuse not to be including a clear call to action.
In the John Lewis Christmas Advert Moz The Monster, the marketing team working on it knew the potential Social Media had to play in the reach and frequency of their creative so including a hashtag as a call to action.
Here's the lesson for you and your brand: make sure you have a clear call to action and clear branding when the conflict or emotional peak has reached a resolution.
Weave your brand name into the creative. Make products placed in the creative clear and obvious.
2. Relatability Click here to smooth scroll to the top of the page
The John Lewis Moz the Monster advert gave us a relatable character in a relatable situation for us to empathise with.
We may not all have had a budding friendship with a 7ft monster, but we all know what it feels like to have a really great, fulfilling friendship.
We also all know what it feels like to make sacrifices. What it feels like to receive a gift, and ultimately to say goodbye to a friend.
As we relate to these moments, we remember moments in our own life and the emotions that come along with them.
I think this comment on the YouTube video for the 2014 Monty The Penguin advert just about sums up what i'm talking about here:
"My little brother had a beanie baby penguin that he would run around with everywhere. It looked a lot like little Monty in this video. I guess that's why this commercial is so touching to me. It reminds me of those more innocent years when my little brother would carry around that silly little penguin."
Well, dcrowl1192, you're not a alone. In this case a character was built up in a very relatable manner for you to have that exact reaction. It isn't mind reading - it's good storytelling and stories sell.
For your advertising, don't think about relatable characters in a literal sense. Just think about your customers pain points and, with a big helping of empathy, how you can position your product/service alongside this moment of extreme emotive empathy.
We know what it's like to be stuck in traffic. The boredom that comes with it. Can you create a bit of creative that leverages that common pain point and empathise with the emotions attributed?
3. Use of Music and Audio
The psychological benefits of music and audio are well documented. It's been found to improve moods when shopping, leading to overall average expenditure.
Advertisers can also use the familiarity of a popular song to incite a specific reaction in viewers that aligns with the objective of their ad. Powerful songs can evoke strong emotional responses, and songs can help create a soundtrack to the events unfolding in an ad when lyrics are integrated into the voice over and storyline.
"Using well known music is like using the world’s best short cut. It gets a client on level three almost immediately. You’re quickly getting them to the level of trust, commercial responsibility and actionability that can take years of standard outreach."
- Creative Account Manager, Steffen Armstrong
But while it’s important that ads resonate with viewers, advertisers want their messages to drive sales, especially with the large price tags that can come with using popular music. However, the good news is that popular songs (and artists) deliver a one-two punch: They boost emotive power and can drive significant returns.
In the case of the John Lewis Christmas advert from 2015, Aurora were commissioned to perform a cover of the Oasis song 'Half The World Away'. In 2014, it was Tom Odell covering Real Love and most recently Elbow covered Golden Slumbers.
The benefits of using a well-known, and probably very expensive, bit of music was twofold:
- People already know it and begin to draw associations almost immediately. People will also have their own experiences with the song and will carry over those thoughts and feelings. (Which can have positive and negative effects.)
- They were able to adapt the popular song to suit the shorter, punchier format of an advert. (And play around with manipulative elements of music theory)
And this is where elements of music theory begin to come into effect. Let's take the 2015 'Man on the Moon' as an example.
Alternating between her full voice and falsetto, Aurora builds up to her higher range in the line ‘I’ve been lost I’ve been found, but I don’t feel down’. She’s backed by piano chords and strings. It’s simple and soft, yet emotionally overwhelming through a mix of minor and major lifts (giving us that rollercoaster of emotions feeling).
More critically, there is always a pause before the final uplifting chorus plays at the artists highest range.
We spoke to Creative Account Manager, Steffen about how royalties and licencing works:
"When it comes to using a song, you have two options:
You can buy publishing rights – essentially you're buying sheet music and can recreate it however you like. This costs less than mechanical rights but you need to factor in the costs for covering the song.
Option two is to buy publishing AND mechanical rights. This is for people who want to totally lift it and use the exact song. This is naturally more expensive.
You also need an agreement with the record company. Some of the record companies are a bit precious. For example 7 Nation Army by the White Stripes is totally off limits for anyone, regardless of budget."
This extends to the choice of voice. When a lot of adverts rely on voice over to deliver important bits of information, you need to make sure that your voice is both consistent with creative and context.
"I can’t over stress the importance of voice casting. No matter how good the writing, how impeccable the sound design, if you get the wrong voice in everything will be ruined."
My mind jumps to Lena Headley's voice on the 2018 Mercedes radio campaigns going across radio, social and TV. Her voice carries all the same values as Mercedes, uncompromising luxury, engineering and class.
4. Radio and Emotional Response
Everyone has a song. A certain collection of chords and beats that bring something flooding back to them.
From a scientific point of view, sound is the fastest sense.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. I’ve seen various science fiction shows - nothing is faster than the speed of light! You’d be right. But that’s not what’s important in this regard. What’s important is how fast the information from your receptors (eyes and ears) travels to your brain for processing.
In that case, sound is by far the fastest sense with a speed of 0.05 seconds. Whereas it takes about 0.2 seconds for your brain to understand the light that reaches your eye. It also takes about 0.2 seconds for your brain to recognize something touching your hand or foot.
Not only do you receive information from sound quicker than you do from sight, but you also retain it for longer.
Lightwave and iHeartMedia asked people to wear a device that measured factors including galvanic skin responses, blood pressure, heart rate and temperature — and played them hundreds of sound clips to determine their response, everything from nature sounds to music, advertisements, video games and more, and recorded their responses.
What they saw in the numbers and wave patterns in data visualizations was that sound got the brain firing across-the-board showing both physical and emotional engagement.
In the next test case they used a trailer from The Expendables 3 movie, playing participants the same ad twice — once as a radio ad and then as a TV ad. The memory encoding for the radio ad was higher on average relative to that of TV — in fact, at the point at which the movie’s name is mentioned in the ad, memory encoding was 220 percent higher for radio than for TV, and radio outperformed TV in seven of our eight subsequent tests, with memory encoding during key brand communication points peaking at higher levels for radio vs. TV.