Emotional Rationality And Rational Emotionality

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There is a lot of discussion in marketing circles about the benefit of — and alleged superiority — of emotional marketing, branding, and advertising approaches when compared to rational messages or approaches.

For example, Neuromarketing reported on a study showing that emotion-based ad campaigns were twice as effective as rational-based campaigns. Other researchers and experts talk a lot about rational versus emotional buying behaviors.

There’s something that I haven’t seen in any of these studies or articles, however: The realization that the rational/emotional dichotomy is a false dichotomy. Let me give you a (fictional) example to explain why this is so:

Imagine that you and I are watching TV together, and an ad for ChildFund International with Sally Struthers comes on.  It’s a sad and somber ad showing impoverished children in Ethiopia, who are hungry and living in squalid conditions. Clearly this is an ad designed to appeal to people’s emotions. The ad could have presented logic and reason for why someone should donate to the fund, but they instead decided to appeal to people’s emotions. Your reaction is to feel sad and sorry for these children. I, on the other hand, think the ad is funny as hell, and laugh uncontrollably.

Now you’re probably thinking: What kind of jerk are you, Shevlin? How the hell could you think that was funny?

What you’re expressing is your belief that my emotional reaction to the ad was wrong — that it was an “irrational” emotional response, in contrast to your “rational” emotional response.  Getting pleasure out of someone else’s pain in generally seen as an “irrational” response, no?

Here’s the point: Emotions can be rational or irrational.

And when an advertising message takes a “rational” approach, it may very be playing into a consumer’s desire to be seen as a rational consumer, which is actually not a particularly rational belief, in and of itself.

So if you must, continue to argue about the virtues of emotional versus rational advertising, marketing, and branding. But you’re wasting your time: The dichotomy doesn’t exist.

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