The Monday Morning Memo: Floating Under Sunny Skies

By Roy H. Williams

I’m watching the hit movie Jaws from the back row of a movie theater during the early 1970s. The scene on the screen is quiet and calm, without even a hint of trouble on the horizon. The actors are engaged in uninteresting dialogue on a boat that floats lazily under sunny skies. It’s time to go for popcorn.

As I’m about to step from the darkness of the theater into the bright lights of the lobby beyond, I hear a collective, strangled gasp and look behind me to see 400 people floating above their seats in a series of spastic positions worthy of Seinfeld’s Kramer.  (It seems the shark has unexpectedly leaped into the back of the boat, utterly terrifying everyone watching.) A moment later, as 400 posteriors land in 400 padded seats, I realize that everyone watching was emotionally in that boat when the shark leaped out of the water.

Wait a minute. Intellectually, these people know they’re not in the water.  Intellectually, they know it’s only a movie. Intellectually, they know it’s a mechanical shark! (If I’m a character in a cartoon drawing, this is the moment when the little light bulb appears over my head.) Intellect and emotion are not connected! Consequently, ad writers must choose whether to speak to the customer’s intellect or to her emotion.

In the years that followed the appearance of the light bulb, I’ve realized that good intellectual ads will suggest to the customer that she make a new decision based on new information, and then substantiate the ad’s claims with indisputable evidence.  But rarely are even the best intellectual ads as productive as the ones that engage our emotions. (Is there a time when an advertiser should speak to the intellect? Absolutely! It’s just doesn’t come as often as most advertisers believe.)

An emotional ad is one that reminds the customer of something she’s always known or has long suspected. Emotional ads will build on the foundation of the customer’s own experience while subtly inserting a new perspective. As a result of this newfound perspective, the customer will have new feelings attached to the product or service featured in the ad. Psychologists call this “an associative memory.”

The simple truth is that we usually do what feels right, then use intellectual logic to justify what our emotions have decided. Then we tell ourselves that we’ve made “the intelligent decision.” (Does anyone besides me think this is funny?)

Do your ads speak to the customer’s mind or to her heart? Will you more likely win her with intellect or with emotion? This is the question which must be answered before your ad writer ever sets pen to paper.

Have you answered it?

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