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
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
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
- 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 consumers 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, thats 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 doesnt use grandmas
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. Thats 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,
thats been left to the creative people. And theyve
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 persons 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
- 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
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 products benefit.
Thats a bit like playing one-day cricket with the methods of test cricket, and
wondering why youre not winning many matches.
Its simply the wrong game.
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.