Emotionally Rich Media

Do you get a little choked up over a good Hallmark commercial? Would you reach for that tissue box if you saw the same spot online, while checking up on where to order monogrammed gifts for your clients?

Traditional broadcast advertising has proven time and again creating an emotional connection with a brand affects purchases and purchase intent. People look favorably on brands they can personally identify with. No medium has done this better than TV.

In the Internet’s early days, critics compared the Internet’s advertising potential to television. Back then, TV blew away the Web. But things are changing. Budgets are shifting, people are speculating, and online video is more pervasive.

Can the Internet deliver a message as powerfully as TV can? Can it elicit an emotional response and persuade users to click, try, and buy?

The same rule applies for Internet advertising as TV: the brand message must be consistent with the ad’s tone. A great example is a campaign my London colleagues created for NSPCC, a foundation dedicated to ending cruelty to children. [To view it, please enable pop-ups in your browser.] Obviously, this brand’s message lends itself to an emotional response. But what about a soda company’s brand message? If it doesn’t work on TV, it probably won’t work online, unless the response isn’t sentimental. If the strategy is to elicit a different, yet still positive emotional experience, then we’re getting somewhere.

Now we face a second issue: which emotional response is the Internet best suited to encourage?

Viewing an online ad in a 300 x 250 box isn’t as powerful as viewing it on a 32-in. TV with surround sound. But the solemn sound of footsteps walking across your screen and the children who follow your cursor with their eyes as they ask you to help end cruelty to children are an original execution with a simple, emotional message. Maybe you don’t shed a tear, but the click occurs. It happens in your mind or in your heart (to paraphrase Wunderman/Young & Rubicam’s Glen Sheehan).

There are a lot of factors in eliciting an emotional response to online advertising from hardened, demanding Internet users. But we shouldn’t stick to rational messaging in advertising (unless it’s search-based). We should turn the Web’s bandwidth, size, and format limitations into the kinds of emotional experiences our audience seeks. It may not be online video; it could be a game, a text banner, or some yet-to-be developed strategy or execution.

Currently, humor seems to be the Internet user’s emotion of choice, but that doesn’t mean this won’t change. In the Web’s early days, information gathering was a primary goal; now, entertainment is a key reason people surf for longer periods. That gives us advertisers plenty of time to figure out how to target advertising for audiences who will receive it with open, perhaps teary, eyes.

The challenges of pulling heartstrings online reveal how the logical part of the mind is center stage during a Web user’s activities, and only absurdity can shake that mindset into an emotional response. Over time, and as our creative execution and online audience evolve, we might bridge the logical and emotional and get past this limitation. For now, we should enjoy a good laugh and pass it along to friends. Leave the crying for later.

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