labels: advertising/branding
Research based on feelings news
Rajeev Sharma
04 August 1999
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It is common knowledge how futile and frustrating, arguing with someone who has a prejudice can be. It appears that all one says in an argument with such a person only serves to strengthen those prejudices.

Yet how often does the advertising industry do it! Argue about why my brand is faster, cleaner, tastier, softer, smoother. It is done in the name of shifting attitudes, under a misplaced idea that one could shift attitudes through the rational mind. This kind of thing happens only in text books on advertising, written by academics who have never created a campaign in their lives. It flies in the face of all real life persuasion and all the latest thinking in psychology.

Several people have, in the past, tried to use logic as a means of overcoming prejudices. History has shown us that this has been an abject failure. Cigarette smokers have been classical examples of this. All cigarette smokers have certainly read the statutory warning of "cigarette smoking is injurious to health" and can probably give a lecture on the harmful effects of tobacco. Yet, appealing to their rationality has never succeeded..

At such times it is important to realise that feelings have overcome impossible prejudices, when logic and force failed. There are plenty of examples to prove this point to us.

  • Non-violence shamed the British into giving us independence.
  • Self-disgust and the feeling of being ostracised from the rest of humanity ended apartheid in South Africa .
  • Hatred of repression rang the death knell of communism in Europe.

Nowhere has the force of feelings been so effectively used than in the entertainment industry. Some powerful entertainment icons have been created out of unlikely characters, just by impacting our feelings. In the process, some potentially powerful predispositions have been shifted rather effortlessly:

  • Ungainly duck + amusement = Donald Duck
  • Lion + vulnerability = Simba
  • Inauspicious bat + the power of good = Batman
  • Ugly frog + love = the Frog Prince.

The way the predispositions or prejudices facing some megabrands have been transformed has some stark similarities.

In the world of marketing too, supplanting a prejudice is simply a question of finding a way to impact the consumer’s emotional mind. All it takes is:

  • recognising the implicit prejudices the brand is faced with
  • finding a way by which a pre-defined feeling can be infused into the brand proposition.
  • often, that’s a case of finding pride in the prejudice.


  • one is  not poor or a failure if one drives an ugly little car called Volkswagen - one can be proud of having the right values.
  • one is not extravagant or filthy rich if one drives a Mercedes - one is just obsessive about a great piece of engineering.
  • one is not a lazy parent if one doesn’t use grandma’s time-tested goodies on one's baby and continue to buy expensive products from Johnson & Johnson - instead, one is the epitome of all that is great about motherhood.

Then there are examples of prejudices or predispositions that can only be overcome by either generating or negating fear - or some other appropriate feeling:

  • of course you are invulnerable, and fires never happen to you. But if your wife screams fire, will you hear her in the office? - Ceasefire
  • of course you are terrified of computers. That’s normal. Here is a computer for the rest of us - Macintosh

Edward de Bono, in his book Textbook of Wisdom, makes a telling observation that "anger can make us do things we do not want to do, and fear can prevent us from doing what we want to do. On the other hand, love can make food taste better, your neighbour more tolerable and the sun shine brighter".

So, what is needed to overcome prejudices is to give our target consumers an 'alternative way to feel'.

And it need not just be about the brand. That will happen anyway, given the nature of the mind. The alternative way to feel could be about themselves. Or about life.

This is because,  in reality  people revise their prejudices through emotional engagement – whether that takes the shape of inspiration, charm, flattery, love, anger, fear, surprise or shame, to name only a few emotions.

This is something to which a lot of lip service, but very little thought or 'feeling' is given. Historically, that’s been left to the creative people. And they’ve done a decent job, for all these years, with very little help. Except that now the stakes have become too high not to make emotional investigation the focus of research and of brand planning. Also because the emotional context of your brand is too important to be left to chance, or to a creative person’s intuition. It is the point of highest leverage. It is strategic.

This means that not only do we want to know what a product does and what motivates the consumer about the product category or brand
but also:

  • what inspires the consumer
  • what makes the consumer proud
  • what makes the consumer want to sing
  • what makes the consumer want to laugh or cry
  • what makes the consumer angry
  • what offers the consumer a helping hand in coping with the realities of his or her emotional world

Essentially, starting from what ‘moves’ the consumer, rather than the product is the process through which miracles of persuasion are born …

To shift prejudices, one has to shift feelings - because while thoughts, functions and physical realities form the context of a prescribed behaviour, it is feelings, emotions and psychological perspective that mould the direction and nature of the response; so much so that they sometimes override the effects of the former as well.

Of course, there will be those  who will persist with the prejudice that advertising means the communication business, and the main job is to search for more and more dramatic ways to illustrate the product’s benefit.

That’s a bit like playing one-day cricket with the methods of test cricket, and wondering why you’re not winning many matches.

It’s simply the wrong game.

Rajeev Sharma is national director - brand planning, at Chaitra Leo Burnett, one of India's leading advertising agencies. He is involved in very unorthodox studies creating 'brand miracles' for the agency which handles some of India's most well-known brands.


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Research based on feelings