Emotion is the greatest form of interaction

Image courtesy of Ali K

I recently had the pleasure of judging two sets of industry accolades.

The first was the Account Planning Group’s Creative Strategy awards and the second, New Media Age’s Interactive Marketing and Advertising Awards, at which I was the above the line cuckoo in the digital nest.

Now, we all have our own view of awards and their importance or otherwise to the business we work in. However, I never fail to find them hugely instructive as a barometer for the way an industry is developing and the ebb and flow of ideas and practices.
For instance, despite all the talk of digital shops getting planning and planners getting digital there is very little cross over between the entries at these two events. The APG still draws the majority of its entries (with one or two very notable exceptions) from advertising agencies and the IMAA from digital and media agencies.
I want, however, to expand on another and far more subtle difference with broader learning for the world of digital planning and creativity.
The fact is that I didn’t cry once while judging the IMAA. Over the week of shortlisting and day of judging I laughed, played, engaged, gapped in awe and doffed my technological cap. But not once did the tears well up in my eyes or the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
Not so the APG awards. On more than one occasion I had to fight back my tears and swallow the lump in my throat in order to get on with the serious business of dolling out gongs. Most notable in the waterworks department was the Nike Air Max campaign that honours moments of devastating sporting failure to the strains of a dying Johnny Cash singing his rendition of ‘hurt’. It gets me every time.
However, this isn’t just a plea for more emotional digital work, although I think this development is inevitable as the discipline’s creative confidence and competence increases and the emotional bandwidth of the tools available increases. After all that is what happened in traditional advertising once the novelty of a brand going on TV ceased to be reason enough to go and buy it.
This is actually a plea to refine our definition of interactivity. As an industry we have a very one dimensional view of what constitutes an interaction between people and a brand and it almost always involves pushing some kind of button, whether on a remote control or a mouse. It’s a very physical thing.
This utterly disregards the fact that the most powerful form of interaction a brand can solicit is exactly the reaction the Nike work creates – emotion. This is a response you can’t measure with clicks or dwell time but in raised pulses, dilated pupils and the crackling sound of synapses firing.
That’s why we love Gorilla, Balls, Evolution and the other real stars of today’s interactive advertising landscape – they generate powerful emotional responses. And the more we learn about the way campaigns work the more we understand that emotional persuasion trumps rational persuasion every time.
So why is the simplest form of human interactivity somehow seen as illegitimate in the armoury of the interactive marketer? Why can’t the technology that we all delight in be used to bring emotion to the brand relationship not just the relationship between users? And why is novelty prized so highly over other, more subtly powerful forms of persuasion?
It is high time that we recognised that emotion is the highest form of interaction and prepared for the judging the next digital awards by stocking up on the Kleenex.
A version of this article originallya appeared in New Media Age.

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19 Replies to “Emotion is the greatest form of interaction”

  1. More great stuff and I totally agree.
    Although, is this category specific? For instance, image and emotion in ‘green’ comms is greenwashing without rationality and information.

  2. Richard you’re beginning to sound like an advocate for lovemarks, KR would be chuffed

  3. You’re focussing on a positive emotional response. I’d argue that the interesting thing about digital is that clients get the website they deserve. If they are a bureaucracy, they get a bureaucratic website, covered in disclaimers and caveats. If they are in thrall to the legal department, they get a site full of dull, impenetrable copy.
    For example, have you ever tried to book a train ticket online? You won’t get a clearer demonstration of the contempt with with the industry treats its consumers. I had an EXTREMELY emotional reaction the last time I tried to use trainline.
    The reason that you don’t get a lump in your throat more often is because there are only a handful of organisations capable of engaging people on a human level. Great ad agencies used to be able to get around this by, well, lying, slightly. You can’t do that online, which is why the examples you gave are, as The Kaiser pointed out, little to do with digital.

  4. I remember talking about this on another posting on this site..
    but agree with this – any conversation whether that be digital, print or TV has the ability to lead and engage on an emotional level.
    I disagree with Martins view that only a few brands can engage on a human/emotional level.
    Every brand that is a genuine brand has a personality and belief at its core and if that fails to strike a chord with your audience we’re all doomed…

  5. Technically laughter is an emotion; but I agree with the gist of this.
    I suppose engagement is a ‘microsite’ of emotion; personality, beliefs, engagement, emotion… they are all vital things for any brand to have in their communications. Whether that be “traditional”, “digital”, PR or whatever else is a buzz word for a group of media in years to come.

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  7. Maybe the difficulty with digital as somebody has already pointed out is that you can’t lie very well. In fact if there is ever a place where people go for the ‘truth’ these days it’s digital. So brands coming in with a scripted ad mentality which may very well create emotion on t.v. completely miss the fact that digital is not somewhere where you can pull the wool over people’s eyes. But who said you can’t move people by telling people a truth worth telling – even in digital?

  8. Emotion, emotion…I don’t just want your emotion, I want your tears…we did it with the Air Max Endure spot but we also did with EA Burnout’s Kah Ra Shin site where we forced people to confront their inner pain and release it through outer violence.
    All will succumb in the end

  9. A very good reminder of what the real goal is – not just interaction for interaction’s sake.
    I suspect the reason we tend to focus on the physical rather than emotional are twofold. Firstly it’s measurable – clicks/posts/downloads etc.
    Secondly it’s easier, to do and to sell.
    Aiming for real emotion is aiming high. It takes a brave agency and a brave client. Credit to Fallon for doing it consistently across more than one client. Gorilla isn’t aiming for anything other than an emotional response – if it had failed it would have been a total failure – without any redeeming physical interactions to buffer it.
    As an industry we need to aim high more often.

  10. Absolutely.
    The ad industry needs more aiming high. Though it must be remembered that high doesnt always mean ‘big’ or ‘expensive’.

  11. Indeed not Rob. A couple of days ago I was searching for the Fallon Eurostar relaunch work on google and came across all the films that people made of the last train out of Waterloo. Very simple stuff and curiously very very moving. Much more so than the relaunch work infact.

  12. A great post Richard. I’ve struggled so often to bring anything emotive to pass in digital.
    And the main reason has been (as Dave Cobban alludes to above) the relative ease of measuring the wrong behaviours, click-throughs etc. I suggested to one client that we do some brand-building online instead of ATL and they were incredibly reluctant to employ soft measures to guage the effectiveness of digital activity, after having grown used to the relative security and tangibility(?) of click throughs.
    Despite all the headway we’ve made ATL in overcoming a rational model and getting to a place where clients happily talk about emotion, the argument has either been put back / or has yet to begin in digital.

  13. I think this is an important subject because i have come across a lot of posts elsewhere where people are arguing for ‘brand utility’ to replace, to an important degree, emotional interaction.
    I think ‘brand utility’ is important and we shouldn’t ignore it.
    But aren’t the brand-utility people ignoring or forgetting some basic things.
    – creative ads such as Gorilla (and many others) are doing brilliantly on the internet. Gorilla is as anti-utilitarian in approach as you can get. Where are the great ‘brand utility’ initiatives on the web that can compete with the likes of Gorilla and other creative / emotional ads?
    – if there is one product that you should, at face level be utilitarian / matter-of-fact and non-emotional about it is the car (technical and costs lots of money). And yet where have the car ads gone in the last few years. Well you make up your own minds (just think of the factory workers making a car out of cake to the Sound of Music – Skoda, or the Opel car surfing .. and so on).
    – Guinness. Guinness’ great brand success has been all about creative / emotional advertising.
    – How can you can you associate things such as perfume, clothes … the list is endless with ‘brand utility’ over creative, emotional advertising?
    – Surely younger people are more into gathering experiences than information or useful things.
    – Even Mastercard, There Are Some Things Money Can Buy, For …. is about money (how matter-of-fact a subject is that) and yet the great success of this add was emotional (MasterCard allows you to pursue the lifestyle / experiences that you want).
    I certainly think that ‘brand utility’ is going to be important. But ‘brand utility’ on its own, isn’t, I think, going to be as big a success (in the long-term) as some / many make out. I think ‘brand utility’ will be something much more important when it is married, in some shape or form, to creative / emotional advertising. But i have no strong ideas how that is going to pan out. I think this is what we should all be looking out now. Anyone have any ideas?!

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