Thursday, 31 July 2008

Overriding emotions

So I've been dwelling for several months on this tweet by my colleague Paul Downey.
Me: "the main role of advertising is to use emotion to override informed descisions"
I think it's a really interesting point, and as usual polarising an opinion sparks off the grey matter nicely. It really has been nagging me. But why?

I've done a fair chunk of work in advertising in the past, and so I suppose I felt vaguely put out by the assertion that I've been helping clients to subvert the public. Packaging, most microsites and to some extent the manifestation of brand values all fall into this category. And yet there is some substance to this accusation. Of course clients want to do whatever they can to improve sales.

But on reflection I guess what got my goat is that it points at the weakness of the human condition. As fallible emotional beings we're all susceptible to alluring advertising. And it's irritating that someone with an inferior product can secure market share through an effective ad campaign.

But the alternative is worse. Can you imagine a world where we have to make purely logical decisions about every single thing we bought? Imagine if we had to choose items in the supermarket based just on the facts? After hours in the store we'd return home with stuff we don't even know if we'll like! What about the Paradox of Choice? It's hard enough making decisions as it is; how would we narrow down our options to a more manageable selection, which we can investigate in more depth, without the aid of packaging and awareness of our options as a starting point?

The reality is that we're all emotional beings. And even though we're also guilty of trying to post-rationalise the choices we make, we're wired to get pleasure from these choices. The world would be a pretty dull place if we didn't allow our emotions to guide our choices to some degree.

Besides, much advertising contains information about the product (alongside, y'know, the emotional stuff) so who's to say it doesn't inform decisions, at least in part? Some people have gotten pretty good at separating fact from emotion and, for the others, well, more fool them.

So I've reached the conclusion that it's the human condition at the heart of the matter, and not advertising per se. And hey if your product doesn't live up to the advertising - whether in function or emotion - word gets around fast and you deserve what you get!

Bonus links: Excellent TED footage from Barry Schultz (of Paradox of Choice fame) and Malcolm Gladwell (of Tipping Point fame, but here talking about how more choice is better). Well worth watching.

1 comment:

Martin Budden said...

I disagree with the implication behind Paul's comment (namely that an emotional decision is somehow not as good as an informed decision). Sometimes an emotional decision is best and sometimes a logical one is best. Part of growing up is learning when to follow your head and when to follow your heart.

Some advertising is good and some is bad. Some of the bad advertising seeks to subvert our emotions, but some of the bad advertising seeks to subvert our thinking (by misinformation, for example).