Brands have emotional power in a digital world thanks to video content.
Just look at John Lewis. It plied us with emotive Morrissey and empathetic, generous youngsters in ‘The Long wait’ (2011), forced heartache on viewers with star-crossed snow lovers in 2012’s ‘The journey’, brought back Animals of Farthing Wood jeopardy for many in 2013’s ‘The Bear & The Hare’, before allowing a stuffed penguin to toy with our hearts in 2014 with ‘Monty the Penguin’.
This year’s installment – which you already know about, of course – is a hotly debated, uncomfortable watch titled ‘#ManontheMoon’. The ad, produced with AgeUK and a sprinkle of guilt, is motivating every man, woman and child to pick up the phone and call their aging friends, family and neighbours.
It’s a phenomenon. Love these ads, or hate them, you can’t deny their success and talkability, and it’s a tactic many brands have been keen to master. But, why – when overly emotional and sentimental content usually receives a frosty, and suspicious reception from Brits (for example, X Factor and its persistent and repetitive sob stories) – is it suddenly such a desirable strategy and boon in marketing?
Never before has technology been so intimately entwined with us
YouTube guru Julian Pistone thinks the emotive power of brand video has increased exponentially since our reliance on, and more personal relationship with technology has developed. According to research by YouTube, an average mobile phone user will check their phone 150 times a day, and it’s thought that there’s only two hours a day when your phone is more than a foot away from you. Brands have historically spoken to consumers using online platforms via laptops and desktops, and looking a little further back they utilised print, television and the radio. The physical distance between these platforms and consumers is greater – televisions stay fixed on the other side of the room, for example – and none rival the personal and private relationship we experience with mobile phones. They are close to our hearts, both in physical proximity and in emotional attachment.
Are brands getting better at emotional content?
With devices becoming more personalised and more precious, emotionally truthful content is increasingly important to consumers. And, while brands are getting better at producing ‘emotion by numbers’ content, replicating strategies employed by brands such as John Lewis, nailing down the truth is far trickier, and we’re saturated with ads that have style in spades, but no substance.
For example, some brands have muddied the waters of good emotional content – that should resonate with consumers – with questionable truths about their service. For example, Nationwide’s ‘On your side for generations’ campaign, pursued an unbelievable narrative to reveal its brand ethics, returning a lost hand-me-down-scarf (a Nationwide worker found on a bus), by using the brand’s Twitter account. The family value content is relatable, but personalised customer service on a national level via a Twitter account is impossible and consumers are aware that’s it’s just too far-fetched to be a truthful reflection of their dedication. Realism delivers impact, where as insincere oversell prompts suspicion (and perhaps why crying on the X Factor is so loathed by many!).
Lloyds on the other hand met the truth head on, and seemingly piggy-backed on the success of Sainsbury’s Christmas eve 1914 ad – and the popularity of historical entertainment dramas such as Warhorse and Downtown Abby – in its 250 year anniversary ad. It’s designed to tell the brand story, prompting nostalgia and a sense of heritage. However, it becomes an increasingly unsettling and uncomfortable watch, climaxing as we relive troops charging horses into battle against machine guns in the First World War. The lasting emotion we have is discomfort. Haven’t we been consistently demanding of, and cruel to horses?
Undeniably, these ads cause an emotional reaction, but it’s not the warm glow John Lewis basks in. It’s a lingering discomfort, a questioning doubt about our morals. If these adverts make you wretch, it’s not because your cynical, rather because the messaging isn’t truthful, or the messaging is unclear. How are you supposed to feel? Emotional content can be confusing.
Throughout the year, Lidl’s ads reveal their dedication to educating consumers about great tasting food. They used hidden camera taste tests, set up anonymous markets and asked their customers for their real opinion. They aimed to delight, educate and have fun, and most of all, present themselves truthfully. They followed up this campaign with the Lidl #SchoolofChristmas, formalising their commitment to consumers by creating a fictional institution of goodwill. Because we’ve created that connection between Lidl and authentic and delightful experiences, the school feels like it could be a real place. We want to enrol. We want to learn how to dress the dog as Santa. We all want Lidl to help us make the Christmas dinner. Jackpot.
Brands diving into emotional content
For brands, emotional video content is an unrivalled opportunity for engagement, but you can bet that without an authentic and real message their ads will be blocked faster than they you can say ‘Monty The Penguin’. Or ‘man on the moon’. For brands to truly resonate with viewers using video, their content needs to add value. Nothing new there, but the difference is that adverts and content must be indistinguishable to avoid alienation.
We’re not saying blast your audience with technical details, rather show them pragmatically and practically how your product will help them. For example, perhaps you set up a hangout with an expert, and offer your audience the chance to chat one-on-one with them in a live broadcast. The experience is very personal and shows care for your audience, while the brand spends a dedicated and focused amount of time discussing the practical and authentic benefits of its products.
Time to challenge convention, shock and get tongues wagging. It doesn’t matter what your product is, there will be a way to get people talking about your video, whether you cast influential stars or vloggers to sell your message, using special effects, off-the-wall narrative or breath-taking locations.
BrandContent’s creative social content and video producer (and celebrated comedy vlogger) Adam Russell said “If you want to include influencers in your video campaigns, entertainment content will suit their ability to sell product to a focused and engaged consumer. Here’s a piece of sponsored content from a YouTuber called TomSka:
“His approach is really blatant, and very funny. With nearly 4m subscribers, he achieved 826, 902 views on the ‘Bite Me’ video for NowTV. That’s a 21% engagement rate, plus a host of branded links under the video for organic clickthrough. Also check out EPIC CHALLENGES, more clever sponsored content by YouTuber WroeToShaw. The film features two brothers taking on sports challenges before finally testing out a Scalextric product. The video unsurprisingly has 3,167,509 views because the content has authentic fun vibes. Scalextric must be thrilled”.
Inspirational, authentic storytelling
This is the coveted category that’s likely to bring a lump to your throat. Brands that utilise authentic and truthful storytelling to produce emotive content are likely to gain huge traction. For example, This Girl Can from Sport England translates female anxiety into a proactive narrative, and P&G’s Thank You Mom celebrates mothers who raised Olympians ahead of the Sochi Olympics (we challenge you not to ball your eyes out at this one!).
What they have in common is truth and pure emotion. If brands are brave enough to align with an authentic experience – minus spades of product branding and product – video viewers will welcome product placement into their private and personal space.