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Welcome to emotional Ad-land

Half of your advertising budget is wasted, you just don’t know which half. E&T assesses a new book by Dan Hill.

Ask any manager in science, engineering and technology what aspect of their job presents the biggest headache and the answer will be 'budgeting'. Delve a little deeper and many will focus on budgeting for above-the-line advertising. Most of us simply don't know how much to spend, how to spend it, or how to justify the expenditure.

There's an advertising adage: half of the money you lay out 'above the line' is wasted – the problem is, you don't know which half. That illusory 100 per cent overspend is maddening – but you have to advertise. Without communicating to your markets what it is you do, you might as well pack up and go home. Any business that doesn't feel the need to advertise is either making too much money or is well down the road to the official receivers.

Advertising has changed. Dan Hill is the author of a new book, 'About Face: the secrets of emotionally effective advertising', which tells us why. 'Twentieth-century marketing (may it rest in peace) was largely about being on-message, about getting talking-points consistently right,' Hill says. 'In contrast, 21st-century marketing will be very different.'

The difference, according to Hill, is that breakthroughs in neurological understanding have allowed us to reach a better understanding of what makes advertising work. If the past century was all about gut feeling, we now know for certain that 'people are primarily emotional decision makers'. We used to set our store by being on-message, but to succeed now, we need to be 'on-emotion, first and foremost'.

Being on-emotion

But what does being 'on-emotion' really mean? Hill's argument is that it's time to stop trying to get the message across by whacking people over the head with canned slogans. 'Being on-message,' he says, 'reflects a fading broadcast business model imposed for years in print ads, over the airwaves and now, though faltering, with website pop-up ads few people notice.' Feelings are natural, innate and organic to all of us. 'So being on-emotion defines the new marketing era, which champions pull instead of push.'

In the old days, when you wanted to sell a digital multi-meter, you placed static adverts in trade magazines telling the reader who you were, what you made, what it did and what it cost. Now, according to Hill, this isn't enough. You need to tell people why they want a digital multimeter. If you're a control engineer, you'll probably already know why you want one, but why do you want this particular one?

Dan Hill is not, as you might expect, an advertising or agency guru. In fact, he comes to the problem not from what he knows is wrong with advertising, but what he knows to be correct about human behaviour. An expert in the role of emotion in consumer and employee behaviour, facial coding and 'sensory-emotional connection', he zeros in on what pushes the punters' buttons and bends the message to make sure it has a fair shot at succeeding.

Hill likes to contend with ten easily digestible bite size chunks when pushing a product. Nearly all of these are common sense, but sometimes consumers need to be told what they already know in a different way. What they know may have been locked into a fixed sequence, and may be rejuvenated by a fresh approach.

Get the visuals right

The big thing about advertising, says Hill, is to get the visuals right. Vision is the only sense that we can turn off and so 'to be on-emotion by creating surprise and enabling connectivity, the entire sensory bandwidth should be up for grabs'.

Remember the 1973 advertisement for the Volkswagen Beetle? Just a shot of a tiny car on a huge plain background. The slogan was 'think small', but the message was 'economise on fuel and save yourself a wad of cash'. This is what Hill is talking about – engage the eye and the brain gets moving.

Of course, we know this; it isn't new at all. But Hill has only just started. Be honest, did you consciously know before reading this that vision is the only sense that can be turned off?

He then goes on to say we should keep it simple. We know this too; however, the reason for simplicity is not so obvious, and that's because none of us likes to admit that we get bored easily. By keeping your advert simple you prolong engagement, and, as Hill explains, 'what most often keeps engagement from happening is needless complexity leading to frustration'.

These are just the first two salvos in Hill's marketing broadside, and as he goes on, we can see the mind of a behavioural psychologist at work. He says the most important thing in communication is the human face.

'Don't create a 'psycho-killer' brand. Faces matter a lot; sometimes I think they're the entire game and that's because the casting and performance of talent will drive (or kill) engagement.' The 'psycho-killers' are the faces that are 'off emotion'. A'cold hard face', he says, 'creates no opportunity for affinity. It won't sell the brand any better than the corner-of-death placement of your company's logo'.

This last statement is interesting because advertisers are prone to advertisement element cloning. Why does the logo always seem to end up in the corner? Why do they think we care about their mission statement or the number of years they've been in business?

As a group, advertisers, advertisement designers and agencies tend to simply follow where others lead. But there's no need to do this, because 'the four inches between our ears hold about one hundred billion neurons'. The only thing stopping wider, more original thought is the pervasive corporate culture that makes advertising company – rather than consumer – oriented.

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