ReTargeter Blog

Empty Emotional Promises – Part One

In my 20+ years consulting for dozens of Fortune 100 companies (including Kraft, Panasonic, Lipton, American Express, and Whirlpool), my wife and I have evaluated literally hundreds of marketing campaigns for their emotional appeal to prospects.  So it’s with much confidence I tell you that while most marketers know they’ve got to push emotional hot buttons to make the sale, the overwhelming majority get it incredibly, incredibly wrong.

It’s a shame, because if you use emotional marketing right, you’ll build long-lasting relationships with customers who will become loyal to your company and purchase time after time.  But if you use emotional marketing incorrectly, you’ll quickly drive people away and erode market share.

You see, most people assume that all marketing increases sales, and that good marketing just gives you a bigger bump than bad.

But they’re wrong.  Bad marketing can actually un-sell your product!

In his book Olgilvy on Advertising, David Olgilvy (head of the Olgilvy & Mather agency) reveals a study done by a former research director at Ford.  Automotive ads were placed in every other copy of the Reader’s Digest.  At the end of the year, people who had NOT been exposed to the ad had purchased more cars.

So it’s entirely possible to spend millions of dollars on advertising that actually talks people out of buying.  The point is that emotional marketing is not something you should engage in casually or assume you know how to do without study.  Yet it’s not at all difficult if you understand the real common sense reason which goes into it, and a few simple techniques to avoid the biggest errors.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the biggest emotional marketing mistake we see time and again, and to give you a simple method for avoiding it 100% of the time.

The #1 emotional marketing mistake of all time is…

THE EMOTIONAL EMPTY PROMISE:  “Don’t Build Your Dream House On a Shaky Foundation!”  Sure, sell them a dream.  But make sure it’s based on a real point of difference you can own!

OK.   So you probably already know that people buy for emotional reasons, and then justify their purchase with logic.   No surprises there…

But where most people fall short is in setting up their emotional promise so that it CAN be supported with logic.  This isn’t about tricking people; it’s about understanding the deep human needs which are met by real features and benefits in the market.

Ideally, the primary emotional promise you make should revolve around a “point of difference” feature you uniquely own.  (A “point of difference” benefit is something people will actually pay money for because you’ve distinguished yourself from competitors. It contrasts with a “price of entry” benefit which is something every competitor in the marketplace has to have to even be considered in the running.  At the end of this article I’ll show you how to quickly find point of difference benefits in your market).

Without real, rational promises, your customer is left with no real reason to repeat their purchase.   When the emotional impact of your ad wears off (and it will!), there’s nothing for them to sink their teeth into, no concrete reasons to justify an ongoing relationship with your product or service.

So, while emotional marketing tricks to create love at first sight certainly do exist, I strongly recommend against using them without a real promise.  Because the infatuation inevitably wears off, and strong marketing systems aren’t built on a string of one night stands.

The conventional marketing wisdom “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” is a little off base.  You see, without the steak, there’s really nothing to sell.  Sell the sizzleand the steak instead!

Why “Empty Emotional Promises” Are So Common:

Most advertisers know that to grab attention and generate interest, you need to make an emotional connection with the prospect.  (Even marketers who target physicians, engineers, or accountants need to emotionally connect with their prospects before they can present their factual messages and points of difference.  That’s the entire reason that drug reps exist in the pharmaceutical industry!)

But the emotional connection is only half the battle.

The key to moving people from an emotionally excited state to actual purchase lies in connecting the emotional promise to real features and benefits of your offering.   It’s not enough to grab their emotional attention … you need to lead them step by step to the sale with real, rational reasons to purchase.

How to Avoid “Empty Emotional Promises”:

Before you release your message, ask yourself, “What will people remember about my product after the emotional reaction wears off?  Have I given them a real reason to purchase?”

Let me give you an example from a 2005 Superbowl ad.  (By the way – so my lawyer doesn’t shoot me –these are very well considered opinions, not objective facts).

Empty Emotional Promise – “Ford Trucks”:

A thirty-something man is driving in the desert with his family.  They’re in a car (clearly NOT a Ford truck).  

Enter the action music, and a large gang of bikers overtakes and surrounds them.

“Oh No!” says the wife, as she urges him to pull over. 

The man says something like “Relax – that’s the last thing we should do! I know how to handle this.”

He pulls into a restaurant parking lot where you see about 15 jet black Ford Trucks lined up in the same way one might see motorcycles lined up at a biker bar.

The bikers pause and look frightened before going in.  Eventually one of them says “I’m not going in there”, and another says “the salad bar is better up the road!”  (This implies that Hells Angels become wimpy salad eaters instead of brawling beer drinkers in the face of Ford Truck owners.)

Then the announcer says something like “We don’t just make our Trucks tough, we make YOU tough!”

Why It’s an “Empty Emotional Promise”:

Ford presents an intriguing premise here – buy a tough truck and it makes you ‘tougher’ by association.  The emotional part of the premise is executed extremely well.  (It’s attention getting, entertaining, and you can’t help but laugh).

Further, I’m pretty sure that Ford has done enough homework to know that ‘Feeling Tough’ IS a very desirable emotional benefit in their market.

But here’s the problem.

  • What makes Ford trucks tough?  Is it a stronger suspension?  The ability to weather all kinds of roads?  Hauling capacity?  Horsepower?
  • What does “tough” actually mean in terms of benefits for the consumer?
  • Does Ford actually offer a unique point of difference above and beyond its competitors that makes it tougher than they are?

There’s no way for the viewer to LOGICALLY CONNECT their desire to ‘Feel Tough’ to Ford Trucks.  So after the emotional excitement wears off, the consumer is left to themselves to determine what tough means, and only has an inkling that Ford might deliver.  (Another big mistake Ford makes is directlytelling the viewer about the emotional benefit “We Don’t Just Make Trucks Tough, We Make You Tough”, instead of implying it.)

The purpose of marketing communications is to sell, not just to entertain.  Empty Emotional promises don’t sell, they only entertain(Sometimes, they also win advertising awards).

Check back in on Monday to learn how you can avoid empty emotional promises in your marketing efforts.


About the Author:

Dr. Glenn Livingston is a clinical psychologist and marketing consultant to dozens of Fortune 500 companies.  Together with his wife Sharon, he’s founded three advertising companies and launched more than a dozen profitable markets of his own.

Check us out or free marketing podcasts on how to attract and convert customers. 



Case Study – Watters

Watters Logo | ReTargeter

Watters is the brainchild of designer Vatana Watters. For over 30 years, it has been the leader in offering luxurious designer bridal gowns, innovative bridesmaids dresses, classic special occasion dresses for mothers of the wedding, and adorable dresses for flower girls and junior bridesmaids around the world. Selling primarily at trunk shows and in third-party […]

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