“Advertisements are sometimes spoken of as the nervous system of the business world. As our nervous system is constructed to give us all the possible sensations from objects, so the advertisement which is comparable to the nervous system must awaken in the reader as many different kinds of images as the object itself can excite” – Walter D. Scott
Beach or low calories?
Imagine two outdoor advertising campaigns for a brand of orange juice. The first billboard portrays a bottle of orange juice in a colourful print, displaying all the nutritional facts of the beverage: low calories, multivitamins, no sugars. With ripe oranges and water drops, the billboard clearly plays the healthy card, presenting the product as an invigorating and refreshing beverage.
The second billboard exudes more of a mood or a way of being. Think of a lush garden, or a golden beach with a beautiful, curvy woman sipping from a glass of orange juice. Betting on the exotic element, the ad wraps the product in a dreamy aura. Drinking the juice means to transport you to that paradisiacal scenery.
Rational or emotional
You can see where this is going. The first ad is obviously relying on facts, while the second one appeals to your emotions. At the expense of a gross oversimplification, it can be said that all ads are either rational or emotional. Of course, the degree in which an ad is either of the two is another problem, that leaves us with a huge spectrum of possibilities in terms of psychological persuasiveness.
What do scientists say?
So what kind of ads are most successful in convincing people to buy a product? What do scientists say? Well, they simply can’t figure it out. The brain is such a complicated and unpredictable machine with a decision-making process resembling an intricate maze.
Research on the topic has nevertheless yielded some interesting results. Apparently, customers prefer rational ads for things of utility, like medicine, financial services and cars, while they appreciate more of an emotional approach to more hedonistic products, like clothes, beer or perfume. Age also plays a role: older consumers seem to prefer emotional ads for almost all the products they purchase.
This sounds overly intuitive and, in a way, it’s good news that it does so. Advertising is supposed to play on our intuition, conscious and subconscious desires.
Persuasion & seduction
Nonetheless, the most successful ads are those that have both broad emotional and cognitive appeal. They should equally target aspiration, persuasion and emotions. Why is it so? Well, all people are capable of both rational and irrational behaviour. Even the most grumpy or serious people have an affective side, and the emotional and rational characteristics tend to activate different parts of the brain. In other words, if you want to persuade, you will also have to seduce.