Why Marketers Want to Make You Cry
“Hey – Dad? You want to have a catch?”
Every time I watch Field of Dreams, there’s one scene that gets me. When Kevin Costner’s character asks his ghost father to throw a ball around, I – and a lot of other guys my age – dissolve.
Chances are, the stories that stay with you also make you cry – or laugh – or get angry. The strong emotions make them memorable.
Marketers are getting increasingly sophisticated at tapping into those strong emotions, and they don’t need a full-length feature film to do it. How many of you teared up – be honest – when you watched this heartwarming P&G commercial during the Olympics?
So how do marketers go from 0 to tears in 30 seconds?
In a word, storytelling. From drawings on cave walls to blockbusters at Cannes, story is still the most powerful way to elicit an emotional reaction. Realize, however, that these emotional connections don’t always have to be innately positive. Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” video, which now posts 13 million+ views, evokes a number of downright depressing emotions by telling a simple story designed to educate consumers about today’s food preparation and make them feel better about Chipotle as a better choice. Nevertheless, the story does end with a challenge to consumers, encouraging them to be part of the solution and to “cultivate a better world.”
The difference between any particularly emotional story and a good marketing story is that a marketing story has a purpose. Ask yourself, “What is the objective of the brand story?” Is it to educate potential fans about some aspect of the brand – like Chipotle’s more sustainable supply chain? Maybe it is simply to bring the brand’s personality to life. (After all, no matter how touching the commercial, no brand can actually be the “sponsor of moms” – yet P&G clearly positions its portfolio of brands as exhibiting mom-like qualities.) Regardless, having a clear, concise rationale is critical before creating your story. Storytelling is simply the means to the end. It is our responsibility to understand what that end is.
Great emotional stories also need to evolve to change with the times. The message may be the same, but the story evolves. For instance, during the 2014 Super Bowl, the Coca-Cola Company ran an ad that showed the various aspects of today’s culturally diverse America with the hymn “America” sung in different languages.
The theme behind the story was the same message the Coca-Cola brand communicated forever – authenticity, sharing happiness, and Americana. What changed was the way these ideas were communicated. Coca-Cola has evolved to communicate these ideas in a 21st century way that is aligned with our times and as a result, shows that Coca-Cola isn’t an outdated brand. By modernizing its stories, Coca-Cola is avoiding the mistake too many mature brands often make. All too often, mature brands believe that they have to change the brand’s core message when in fact, the core message doesn’t need to change, but the way the story is communicated does. After all, even though times change, our emotions don’t.
Strong emotional stories also have the power to announce a major brand change. A classic brand, A1, uses a story based on a modern communication platform to share a transformation – modifying its name and, ultimately its positioning from “A1 Steak Sauce” to A1 “Original Sauce.”
Here is a story that elicits real emotion – and yet we’re talking about the emotional life of a steak sauce! Yet, it leverages the classic “boy gets girl, boy loses girl” relationship story that tugs on your heartstrings and yet achieves the purpose of letting the consumer know that A1 is for more than just steak.
Great emotional stories can also make a competitive argument about product features null and void. Apple’s competitors always want to talk about pixels and price points. Apple responds with a story that shifts the conversation to a higher emotional place – and makes those competitive arguments seem small and unimportant. In its heartwarming Christmas story, the Apple brand becomes an integral part of a family’s holiday festivities and thus, takes a higher road against those competitors who want to compare product attributes.
Great emotional storytelling doesn’t take stunning cinematography or a complex storyline. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding the right music. Consider another example from Apple — this simple 2012 iPad mini commercial, which uses a classic Hoagy Carmichael song to create an instant emotional bond with the viewer:
As a marketer, you have to ask yourself, what is our brand’s story? If you don’t know the answer to that question, or even worse, find that it one that isn’t compelling to you, you can be sure that it won’t make customers feel anything.