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The debate surrounding emotional (brand) versus rational (factual) advertising has raged and raged. The brand advocates claiming that building a relationship with the consumer is all important and leads to a level of commitment and loyalty that can never be replicated by simply promoting product advantages, pure and simple. The advocates of rational (factual) advertising counter claim that promoting the specific benefits of a product or service is the best way to encourage trial and achieve repeat purchase.

The branding fraternity have developed methodologies to establish a company’s brand vision, mission, positioning and personality, which they state have transformed companies such as Coke, Nike, Apple, Virgin, Disney, McDonalds and countless others, into iconic deities for consumers. The result is that dedicated followers of such brands demonstrate a level of loyalty to the cause because “their brand” most successfully communicates common aspirations and values. The rational lobby state with equal conviction that advertising is most effective when it focuses on changing behaviour not attitudes, and that you get the consumer to love your brand by convincing them to try the product, rather than convincing them to try the product by getting them to love your brand.

With neither side prepared to give an inch, it’s an appropriate moment to introduce our two heroes from Star Trek, Captain Kirk and Mr Spock. For those not familiar with the original TV series, or any of the endless film and TV spin-offs, Captain Kirk was the all too human leader of The Starship Enterprise, part of a peace keeping armada patrolling the universe in the twenty third century. Mr Spock, a Vulcan complete with pointy ears and arched eyebrows was the Starship’s first executive officer who, because of his origins (planet Vulcan), based his decisions entirely on logic. Which meant that when faced with life or death situations involving the kind of aliens that you wouldn’t want to meet in deepest, darkest space, he did not allow emotions to cloud the issue. And yet these two very different beings formed a partnership that would have put Batman and Robin to shame. They had the ability to come out on top in every possible encounter with threatening, extra terrestrial life forms.

The latest marketing research has finally provided the definitive, unequivocal answer to the “emotional versus rational” advertising debate. The research in question “The Long and The Short of It”, published in 2013, was commissioned by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and was based on an analysis of 30 years of entries to the IPA Effectiveness Awards. Covering more than 700 brands in over 80 categories, the research used the criteria of improvements in profit, sales, market share, customer loyalty and price sensitivity, to reach its conclusions.

After seventy six pages of carefully argued analysis, supported by highly impressive and conclusive charts and graphs, both sides of the “emotional versus rational” advertising debate are vindicated. To quote the research “emotional (brand) campaigns produce considerably more powerful long-term business effects than rational (factual) campaigns”. However it also states “rational campaigns produce more powerful short-term sales effects”. The conclusion is that the most successful approach is to develop powerful emotional (brand) campaigns and to combine them with strong rational (factual) advertising to drive short-term sales, whilst the brand effect gains momentum. The differentials achieved in key business measures of adopting the recommended approach, are nothing less than startling.

So there we have it. The marketing world would have done well to have taken note of our Star Trek adventurers who pointed the way forward, as far back as 1966. They showed us that combining the emotional with the rational was the best possible approach if you want to take on the most daunting of your adversaries.


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