Monday, May 5, 2008

The power of emotion

So, Colleen and I went to this talk tonight by Karim Nader put on by the McGill Alumni Society. Dr. Nader is a rock star in the field of memory, particularly around PTSD. He has this amazing theory, backed up by his recent research, that when we access our memories we can change and manipulate them. In particular, through the use of pretty harmless chemical intervention (beta-blockers), we can access traumatic memories and then remove the traumatic aspect of them, rendering them essentially harmless. This is somewhat mind blowing stuff.
More related to my little world of marketing though was something that Dr. Nader brought up earlier in the talk. He discussed how our memories are broken down into the facts of the memory and the emotions that are attached to them, and that your mind treats the two elements separately. Plus, these emotional memories have far more longevity and strength than the logical ones. From an evolutionary standpoint this makes sense. You'd want to have quick and immediate access to things that have hurt you or made you afraid in the past, i.e. things that have an emotional impact.

So, if you've got the choice of creating communications that makes a logical argument or communications that has an impact on an emotional level, which would you do. I think that most of us, making the assumption that humans are rational beings, would lean towards the former. But when the consumer is in the store and has to make a decision your logical arguments may fall by the wayside, whereas the impact that your emotional message has made will still be there.

I suppose that the best case scenario is that you've got a strong rational play to make and you can do it in an emotional way. But the frequency of that beautiful combo seems rare. The more common situation is that we dig for information and sometimes we settle for a product angle that isn't as solid or important. And that's where things go terribly wrong.

As usual, Bill Bernbach said it best decades ago:

"You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You've got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don't feel it, nothing will happen."

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