Thursday, 1 February 2007

Wagner says negative emotion without positive resolution can work

Last night I shared a few ales and a marvellous wide-ranging conversation with my friend Paul (not the photo above) and it really got me thinking afresh about the whole sad-vertising thing. As a result, I was writing blog entries in my sleep - so there should be plenty of new material posted here in the coming weeks!

One question in particular continues to gnaw at me - can an ad which portrays / evokes only negative emotions, and which supplies no positive resolution, be effective?
Nigel Hollis of Millward Brown thinks not - and it appears a quite reasonable argument - considering consumers who saw the Smirnoff ad, but not its positive resolution, he worries that they "may be left bewildered and upset?" And asks "can that be good for the brand?"

But as you will know from previous posts I am not convinced that all negative is all bad. I've already listed a number of reasons for leaving the jury out on this question.... but until the matter is properly
addressed with further research, perhaps you will permit me a muscial analogy that helps me feel optimistic about the "all-negative" route...

[I beg foregiveness from all those without a notion about music, and double forgiveness from all who know their music better than I and can see my sweeping assumptions for what they are].

Right, a cadence is a a particular series of intervals or chords that ends a section of music. If you don't know what I mean, listen to a piece of music, and the last two or three chords of any section constitute a cadence. Cadences basically tell you when a piece of music is concluded, giving you a feeling of completeness and satisfaction in the process (think of Mozart and his gratuitous repetition of cadences at the end of his grandest works... you're left in no doubt that the piece, and the story, is 100% over and resolved).

But then along comes Wagner who rather brattishly decides not to give his listeners the satisfaction of cadence completion. Throughout the whole of
Tristan and Isolde (the highest summit of music or incomprehensible garbage depending on your critic of the time) Wagner uses "harmonic suspension" to create musical tension. This means the listener is exposed to a long sequence of unfinished cadences... and in the absence of nice, neat Mozart-like cadences, the audience is left gagging for a musical resolution that does not come. Tristan & Isolde is build-up with no delivery... excrutiatingly tense and frustrating, but incredibly engaging, involving and dramatic... no wonder this musical form became a staple in 20th century cinema scores.

So, I wonder if a purely negative ad might work like harmonic suspension... a failure to deliver resolution that just leaves you emotionally entwined around the brand and desperate for more. It works for Eastenders (Britain's best soap opera which is all negative all the time... it doesn't stop middle-aged women sending off for Eastenders mugs).

And just as Wagner was denounced and misunderstood by many, perhaps the all-negative ad would only appeal to a discerning few?

A final point... lack of resolution may leave it open to the consumer to interpret what has happened, what they have felt, what it means... and in an era where consumers define brands as much as marketing professionals... perhaps this is no bad thing?

Well next time I post on this all-negative all-the-time thing I hope to have a little more ammo than a musical analogy... but even if it is the case that an all-negative ad would just leave me feeling "bewildered and upset", the last paragraph of my Admap article suggests that could be quite a nice experience.

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