As Chairman of the PRCA’s Consumer Group, I was thrilled to hold our fourth event last night, this time at Coca-Cola HQ. The theme was ‘Brand Versus Product Communication’ looking at when to dial up rational and/or emotional messaging, and the event attracted a 60-strong turnout of senior PRs from leading PR consultancies as well as in-house comms roles.

Along with my Vice Chair, Coca Cola’s PR Director for Western Europe, Joan O’Connor, our stellar panel also included Peter Firth – Insight Editor, The Future Laboratory, Candace Kuss – Director of Social Media, H&K, Shelly MacIntrye – Global Head of Marketing – Sipsmith and Joanna Porter – Managing Partner, Insight & Strategy – Havas SE Cake. Despite more campaigns than ever before, winning at Cannes on the grounds of emotional marketing, we wanted to explore why some brands are choosing rational-led product messaging over emotional-led brand messaging .

But firstly, to the question of how we define ‘brand’ (e.g. what people ‘want’) versus ‘product’ (e.g. what people ’need’), and also what consumers are looking for from brands – Peter Firth highlighted the trend for consumers’ obsession with how things make them feel. He cited the The Future Laboratory’s latest ‘Emotional Economy’ trend report as surmising just that, and perfectly illustrated it with the example of ‘sad dadvertising’ which turned the classic portrayal of ‘incompetent’ dads on its head through campaigns that tugged at our heartstrings. (Think Ariel’s campaign in India focussing on the grandfather figure as well as the Superbowl’s dad hair braiding campaign for Pantene).

Joanna Porter cautioned however that an emotional communications approach needed to be rooted in authenticity, and that some brands had created campaigns that were far too abstract, which she branded as ‘self-indulgent marketing’ which today’s savvy consumers could instantly see-through. She reiterated the requirement for marketeers to understand the strategic need for their brand or product by uncovering data and robust consumer insight. It was only then that they could use these to determine whether communications should lead with a rational or emotional strategic approach. Joanna evidenced data that had helped gauge consumer ‘warmth’ and ‘consideration’ for her one of clients, Barclays – and that by tapping into relevant, emotional human truths, they were able to deliver a +15% uplift, in its campaign that led with emotional brand messaging (backed up by product credibility).

This led on to a discussion about other ‘lower interest’ categories, as Candace Kuss said that it depends where you are in the purchase funnel – ultimately consumers need to buy a functional product, but it should have a differentiator. Through its highly emotive campaign, P&G’s Always sanitary products allow consumers to be more active, thereby earning the right to be in that space – more so the brand successfully changed the ‘like a girl’ negative stigma, into a phenomenally powerful positive.

Shelly MacIntrye exampled Sipsmith as a craft gin that didn’t have as much investment as other alcohol goliaths, to build emotional resonance with consumers – meaning that every consumer touchpoint had to work even harder to ‘show’ not ‘tell’ Sipsmith’s authentic brand story. She used a great analogy – of entering a relationship – where it’s your attributes that the other person falls in love with, rather than you telling them how great you are!

Joan O’Connor highlighted Coca-Cola’s ‘Taste the Feeling’ back-to-basics campaign that launched this January. A move away from the previous ‘Open Happiness’ platform, the strategy was to romance the senses and remind consumers of the taste and ritual of opening and drinking a Coca-Cola product. The strategy was, in part, a result of a huge plethora of choice at POS, meaning that whilst consumers know and loved the Coca-Cola brand, they were getting distracted at point of sale. Equally important to ‘building and maintaining brand love’ Joan said ‘ building corporate trust was also imperative to consumers – so getting the balance right here was essential too’ – proving corporate brand and product were closer than ever.

As well as using a combination (in different weightings) of rational and emotional communications, depending on the data and consumer insights that feed a strategy, the panel were aligned on the ongoing need for brands and products to be authentic to gain emotional share of heart. Candace Kuss made a valid point about brands like Pampers who successfully created overarching brand love – the perfect example of consumers who buy the brand when the time was relevant to them (e.g. when they had children and were ‘in the buying cycle’) a a smart way of playing the long game through rational credentials, wrapped up in emotional engagement.

We ended the panel discussion by asking Peter Firth what the future holds … “Serious future looking brands would all continue to invest in emotion in the race to get as much data as possible. This would allow for artificial intelligence so that brands could interface with consumers more efficiently … after all if a brand can understand the consumer emotion behind choice, purchase, advocacy and loyalty decisions, it will win.”

Ruth Allchurch
Managing Director

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