Your tears first must flow

Crying Girl, 1964, Roy Lichtenstein. Milwaukee Art Museum

I’m a big fan of crying. And laughing for that matter. They are raw and overt demonstrations of the intensity of our emotions.

Of course, intense emotion of any description has traditionally been frowned upon at work, deemed unprofessional by a patriarchy that has bled the workplace dry of emotional expression.

Perhaps this is changing. Even in the most corporate organisations vulnerability and emotional honesty are now prized as marks of a healthy workforce and more than that, seen as essential to good governance. After all, companies that are more open and honest are more likely to spot commercial and reputational problems early and do something about them.
If our emotions are starting to become desirable in the board room, the truth is they should be absolutely mandatory in the marketing department. And in the agencies that serve it.

Not in some kind of detached, analytical sense, where emotion is witnessed at a distance and disarmed by layers of marketing mumbo-jumbo. Tamed and made safe by literal and metaphorical viewing-room mirrors. You know the sort of thing, segmentations populated by fake people, ‘need states’ that no one really needs and insights that dance along the surface of human experience like gadflies on a lake.

It is real and raw emotion that we need to get closer to and to witness more often. The kind of emotion that doesn’t require you to point at an emoji that may or may not represent how you feel, because its visceral. Visceral, as in felt in the deep internal organs of the body, like crying, laughing and that weird feeling you get when the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

Marketing departments should be swimming in this stuff. The job of creating real human connections between brands and customers should not be the preserve of the agency or its creative department alone. Emotions need to be baked into the thinking, in the very articulation of the brand, into its essence. And they should be dripping from the insights that drive that thinking. If you don’t ‘well-up’ while working on the strategy, or feel moved by the insights you are using, then how the hell can anyone else be expected to? If emotion is not in the input to the work, its damn hard for it to be in the output.

Surely, the work that moves us most was emotional from the very beginning and certainly long before the director’s treatment. ‘Like a Girl’, ‘This Girl Can’, ‘Honda Grrr’, everything Nike ever does up to and including ‘Nothing beats a Londoner’, T-Mobile’s ‘Welcome Back’, ‘The Long Wait’ from John Lewis, the idea of creating joy not showing it in ‘Gorilla’, ‘Superhumans’, McDonald’s ‘Night workers’ and ‘Welcome back’. This work isn’t emotional just because of the choice of music or the casting, it is emotional at its very core.

In all of this perhaps we might take a lesson from Winston Churchill, no stranger to stirring the emotions. Back in 1897, in an unpublished article called ‘the scaffolding of rhetoric’, Winston Churchill wrote “The orator is the embodiment of the passions of the multitude. Before he can move them to tears his own must flow”. Churchill knew that if he didn’t cry writing a speech, no one would cry as he delivered it.

If your aim is to truly connect with your customers on a profound emotional level, dump the pseudo-science, bake feeling into the very heart of the brand, stop leaving emotion to the creative department and above all tune into your own emotions.

Because, before you move the consumer to tears, your own must flow.

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