I recently heard a fascinating talk by research expert John Kearon about the role of content vs emotion in marketing. I don’t think he’s got everything right, but he highlights a fundamental point we’d all do well to think more about.

In short, Kearon attacks the idea that successful advertising revolves around conveying information as well as feelings—what he calls “a fist of a brand proposition wrapped in a velvet glove of emotion”.

No, he says: the most successful ads actually tell you nothing.

He gives a couple of examples: Walls’ Cornetto ads in the 70s which helped the ice-cream become the best-seller and Cadbury’s much-talked-about drumming gorilla from 2007.

He says the primitive, “reptilian” half of our brain is far more important in decision making than the half responsible for thought and analysis. “We think much less than we think we think.”

Content, he says, doesn’t matter.

Now, I don’t think he by any means “proves” this as he claims—certainly not by citing a couple of popular ads. In most cases, content does matter. People want to know things about the products they buy, the places they go and the organisations they deal with.

When I last bought a car, I made sure to check the 0-60 time, MPG and likely service costs as well as how it felt to drive. When I last bought insurance, I looked almost entirely at the facts.

But there is a great point lurking in Kearon’s talk about the importance of sentiment, and this applies not just to ads but all marketing activities. As I’ve said before, too many organisations pump out factual information that’s devoid of spirit.

It’s vital to define the most significant features and benefits of your product. But alongside this, what’s its character and what’s the feeling you want people to attach to it? Style, security, comfort, pride, excitement …?

As well as identifyng the main strengths of your organisation, also look at its personality and what it feels like to deal with.

Where these feelings are positive, look at how you should adapt your marketing—and your organisation and products themselves—to make people experience even more of them.

Both aspects—information and sentiment—are vital. But the emotional side is often neglected, particularly in marketing activities other than advertising that focus more on detailed content.

Kearon rightly says, “If people feel nothing, they do nothing.”  The facts are vital in marketing what you have to offer, but it’s people’s feelings that will spark them to take action.


What’s your view on the place of feeling in marketing? Is it secondary to content, equally important or the only thing that matters?  How can we harness it more effectively? 

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