Catalytic Thinking / Opinion

Objectively speaking, advertising and marketing are subjective.

Here’s a news flash – your audience probably doesn’t care about the magnificence of your product.

You might have the biggest touchscreen in the world. The best electronic shaver. The most luxurious chair.

That’s all very well and good. But the consumer doesn’t care about these objective factors.

They care about what your product can do for them.

This might sound like a really, really obvious point (especially to those of us who know this instinctively), but it appears that major companies are only just getting the gist.

Phillips, for example, have created many “world-first innovations” but haven’t brought their “very rational approach to an emotional level” (Marketing Week, 14 March 2012).

So what they’re saying is that they’re technically excellent but haven’t been able to make the consumer actually care about the product.

Objectively, you might be able to prove that Phillips have the biggest this, the fastest that or the smallest something else.


But what does this mean to me (and you) – the consumer?


We’re not entirely rational beings – and there have been many bytes worth of the internet devoted to trying to prove this (Thinking vs Feeling by Derek Thompson is one of my many favourites).

In fact, if you want to get really technical about it, our brains actually light up differently when exposed to emotional vs rational input.

Going further, a recent study showed that “qualities such as pleasure and belonging” are heavily linked to people’s brand choices (The Brand Enrichment Report via Marketing Week, 1 March 2012). The report lays out “eight factors that influence more than 80% of consumer purchases.

“In order of their impact on buying decisions, these are:

    and confidence.”

Notice – all of these are subjective.

Even effectiveness is subject to the user experience – I’ve had two near identical vacuum cleaners (for example) from two different brands and one was actually more effective than the other in cleaning my house, despite virtually identical (rational) specifications. My grandmother, however, had the opposite experience. See – subjective.

At the risk of ramming the point even deeper down your throat, writer Tom Denari created a great piece for Ad Age with the standfirst: “Emotional Attachment Is Tied to the Consumer’s Sense of Self”.

Oh Tom, you hit the nail right on the head. I mean, just check this out:

No matter what you buy — diapers, clothing, electronics or a can of tomatoes — the brands you select affect how you feel about yourself. The car you drive makes a statement about who you think you are. So does the cup of coffee you pick up in the morning and the mobile phone you carry, even though you’re not consciously aware of it. And while this seemingly selfish, indulgent behavior might seem the sorry reflection of a hypercapitalistic culture, it’s really how we’re hard-wired.

A brand helps people fall in love with themselves by reinforcing or affirming self-image. (e.g. I’m the kind of person that uses that kind of __________.)

All of these ideas point to one thing – that communicating to a person’s emotions, their deep held view of themselves or their own innate psychological triggers is going to be more effective than giving them the facts and figures.

Hell, I’ve even written about this before.

Back in June last year, I gave you the idea that the customer doesn’t need to share your motivation. This was then followed by a practical piece on building buzz without bias through using psychographics.

I even dared to disagree with Seth Godin and looked at from a micro and macrolocalism level as case studies for this emotionally-resonant approach.
And my forthcoming e-book (hopefully with you by the summer) takes this a step further into practical psychographic community identification, integration and interaction.

These pieces are all aimed at making marketers touch the emotions and the inner, subjective, irrational, heart-felt lives of their consumers.

How we feel about ourselves, about the world around us, is subjective.

And how we interpret marketing/advertising is subjective.

We bring our own preconceptions, our own individual experiences, our hopes and fears into each viewing of a particular communication.

That’s why some people get offended by adverts that make other people laugh.

We filter our existence in the way that is most cognitively consonant to ourselves.

So while you might objectively have the best product on the market, the longest battery life, the most reliable engine or the softest cashmere shawl – if you can’t communicate these benefits to your audience in a way which answers the question “How will this help me to express and live who I am?”, your consumers will never catch on.

Thankfully, as Phillips are now showing, brands are starting to catch onto this idea. For some, it will be too little too late. For others, it could be the start of a complete repositioning in their customers’ homes.

Less winning minds, more stealing hearts if you will…

Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.
The featured image on this post is from sskennel’s Flickr Photostream, under Creative Commons.


One thought on “Objectively speaking, advertising and marketing are subjective.

  1. Thank you soo much for amazing information. I am student in Turkey my departmant is marketing I have been many times in Uk, I have seen many company in UK for example Primark, Londonsale . I have a question for selling If I selling something is it most important USP( unique, selling, point ) ? Can you give some information about it? Thank you and I am glad

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