Posted by:
Kate Mistlin, Senior Account Executive
2nd Aug 16

Have communications tipped the balance by becoming more emotional than rational?


I recently attended one of the PRCA’s Consumer Group events, ‘Getting the balance right – brand VS product communication – when to dial up rational and/or emotional messaging’ at the amazing Coca-Cola headquarters. It was hugely informative and hosted by our very own MD, Ruth Allchurch, who is also Chairman of the PRCA’s Consumer Group, along with some other highly inspirational industry panellists hailing from the world of FMCG, strategy and insights…

• Joan O’Connor (Vice Chairman PRCA Consumer Group & Head of PR for Coca-Cola Western Europe)
• Peter Firth (Insights Editor LSN, The Future Laboratory)
• Candace Kuss (Director of Social media, H&K)
• Shelley Macintyre (Global Head of Marketing at Sipsmith)
• Joanna Porter (Managing Partner, Insight & Strategy at Havas SE Cake)

The session kicked-off by asking the million dollar question, ‘Why are some brands choosing product and rational over emotional and brand managing, despite the winners’ campaigns at Cannes taking an emotional approach? This was the underpinning theme that ran throughout, with the overall consensus concluding that a balance must be created between the two, as some recent communications have taken the emotional element too far, e.g. John Lewis.

What is apparent though is that emotionally-led marketing is a clear-cut way to gain audience trust and loyalty for a brand, particularly when it might be relatively unknown or has a product in a low interest category – such as insurance or everyday items like milk and bread. A good example of this is the Silver Cannes Lions 2016 winner, Trygg Hansa, a Swedish insurance company who found an insight that alcohol was the cause of a record amount of drowning incidents. Drawing on this emotional topic, and linking back to the company product in terms of life insurance, this un-known insurer suddenly became a brand which made consumers feel safe and in turn, they became the only insurance company who owned this space. Ultimately – they built category acceptance.

Once brand trust is gained, it is then much easier to revert back to focusing messaging on the actual product on offer and avoiding the trap of losing product messaging through over-emotion. A good example of this is Coca Cola, who in the last 6 months, have switched to more rational and product-led messaging and dialling down the emotional side – historically making the move in January this year to divert away from their global “Open Happiness” creative platform to “Taste The Feeling”. Joan O’Connor explained that they already knew that people loved the Coca-Cola brand with its iconic heritage and positive link to ‘Open Happiness’ – but soon realised that this didn’t necessarily mean that they were buying the product when it came to purchasing decisions as consumers were getting distracted by competitor products. The comms strategy was to focus on the great taste of Coca-Cola products – reminding the nation of the product’s original point of difference. Thus, the ‘Taste The Feeling’ campaign was born to remind consumers that nothing beats the unique taste of Coke or the ritual of opening the bottle to hear it fizz.

What became clear from the session is that the problem arises when the balance between rational and emotional is tipped, and emotional messaging gets too heavy. The first example that came to my mind immediately when thinking of this was John Lewis who, for the past few years, has used incredibly emotional messaging in its Christmas campaigns.

John Lewis has a number of products to showcase and therefore bringing in an emotional strategy to gain consumer trust was a clever route. The Snowman, the Hare and the Bear and Monty the Penguin were received brilliantly by audiences. Christmas became a time when everyone waited in anticipation for the John Lewis advert… until 2015 which saw ‘The Man on The Moon’ hit our screens. For many, this was a step too far, almost becoming too sad and losing its link entirely with the products on offer. This was one of the least popular Christmas adverts by John Lewis, with Sainsbury’s ‘Mog’s Christmas’ taking the limelight.

So, what is the answer to ‘When is it best to dial up rational and/or emotional messaging?’ Well, as Peter Firth so perfectly put it, “it is all about connecting the messaging to a human insight that everyone can relate to.” When there is significant insight behind the reasoning of the emotional messaging, which is highly relatable to a large audience and has a link with the brand and product; then you’re on to a winner. Simply put, it is all about identifying a problem (which doesn’t have to be complicated) and finding a creative solution, which will get the consumer to trust the brand (using emotion), and then , get them to purchase the product at point of sale (rational) – creating a balance between the two and demonstrating how intrinsically linked they are”.

For me, the brand who has nailed this balance is Fosters. The company gained invaluable first-hand insights by listening-in to men’s conversations in pubs and discovering that they actually have a number of problems that they discuss when having a pint. Using this insight (which is emotionally-driven as opposed to product-driven) Fosters turned this into comedy-gold, making it a light-hearted joke rather than creating sadness. Fosters’ ‘Good Call’ campaign had behind it key human insight which was relatable directly to the brand’s target audience.

Overall, this session was highly informative providing a range of key learnings for the 60-strong audience of PR professionals. As Joan O’Connor commented “The opportunity for PR lies within two key drivers, relevancy of the audience and availability, with earned media channels as a key platform for driving both of those lenses.”

Kate Mistlin
Senior Account Executive

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