First of all, Nigel Hollis, the Chief Global Analyst of Millward Brown has opened a dicussion on his blog (I'm really chuffed that Millward Brown are showing such appetite for this debate... and such openness!). In response to the posts of the last week, Nigel begins by asking...
"Has Erik now become the savior of Millward Brown, or has he simply articulated our belief about how emotion works better than the rest of us?"
He goes on to indicate his broad agreement with the principles of sad-vertising, but also underlines an important distinction that certainly warrants further debate...
"An ad that touches deeper emotions which resonate with the target audience will always be more effective than a “happy-talk” ad. There is, however, a very important distinction to be made between how we feel when we watch an ad and how we feel about the brand as a result of watching the ad."
Citing my example of the Fly Fishing / J.R. Hartley ad, he says...
"The key point is that the narrative flow of the ad resolved my sadness and empathy into affirmation, just as David suggests it should. That’s what great ads do; they engage your emotions in a way that leaves you feeling better disposed toward the brand. The problem is, not every ad is a great ad. Not every ad resolves itself to leave you feeling affirmed, revived, or exhilarated. All too often ads which seek to utilize “negative” emotions end up turning people off the brand because they fail to close the loop."
Now I still maintain that we cannot yet be 100% sure that "failing to close the loop" means people will be turned off by a brand. Yes, it is intuitively appealing to believe that negative emotion is ok as long as the resolution within the consumer is positive. People get this.
But I worry that implicit within this is the belief that the ad itself must have a positive resolution. And in my paper I speed over a number of reasons to believe that negative emotion without positive reconciliation may be just as effective (mood congruity, the experiential similarity between postive and negative emotion, the example of tragedy, and motivational attractiveness to negative emotions in others). We can't know for sure, but it may be that purely negative ads can be effective for brands.
And with a complex media strategy perhaps a brand could communicate negatively for weeks or months before finally offering a positive resolution... a true emotional journey, far greater than that possible in 30 seconds? Consider the Smirnoff Triple Distilled ad (pictured above) a sad tale covering a break up, adultery and a "positive" resolution which at first only came about if you pressed the "red button".
So, to the more complex point about positive resolution having to occur within the consumer (if not in the ad). Well again this seems very sensible - I argued the point in my paper - but we cannot yet rule out the possibility that an unresolved negative emotion associated with a brand could be good for the brand. It's hard to fathom... I know... but let's remember the important distinction between complex social emotions (guilt, embarrassment, empathy) and base reptilian motivational emotions (e.g. fear).
Take the Bisto ad made by McCann Erickson, London... it was beautiful, effective... but didn't it also leave a lot of parents feeling guilty?
Secondly (a long way down for a second point I know) Faris posted some lovely stuff on sad-vertising and the Dark Side of brands yesterday. Check it out, he echoes the above with his discussion of brands functioning to reconcile complex opposites and talks about the thinking of his Australian chum. All quite fittingly adding to the complexity of this matter.
And given Faris's prominence in the blogosphere it has led to some nice coverage here... http://if.psfk.com/if/index.php ... thanks for being so popular mate!
Phew... I think all this warrants a PhD.