Marketing theory teaches us that in order to evaluate a promotional message, one must have two things. A dimension (way) to somehow measure the message, and a dimension (way) to somehow measure the audience.

Understanding the audience, understanding what the audience needs and giving it messages about a product that will be perceived as satisfying that need, is pretty much the job description for every marketing manager out there. However, “understanding” is often subjective, and therefore open to potential disaster. (In my experience, every project that has failed, it has failed because of influence of people and their “magic”touch – which results from everyone’s individual way of understanding the world); so “understanding” something without being able to somehow measure it, is an invitation for trouble.

Obviously, there is even higher levels of difficulty with defining a “dimention” and measuring each marketing message. Each message talks about different products, is potentially running on different media and has a completely different audience that it targets. Hence, attributing any message an objective value is going to be insanely complicated… unless you cheat!

We should all agree that we can understand the audiences out there much better than the messages themselves. Since the dawn of marketing, understanding the audience was the first step in selling… So what would happen if we were to take something out of the audience of each message, and use that to measure the message itself? [“Crazy talk” I hear you say… but bear with me]…

A few years ago I came across the concept of emotion marketing (a term coined by the all-mighty Hallmark I believe) which I thought has fantastic potential as a tool for message evaluation. In a nutshell, emotion marketing is an approach to the old marketing problem with a completely different set of tools. Instead of looking at your product’s positioning and trying to evaluate if your message delivers it clearly, you are instead defining and evaluating everything that you do from the single point of emotional context! In other words, one can identify all the aspects of a product and evaluate its attributes from the point of view of some sort of emotion quanta (or hooks – but I like the word quanta more – it sounds so much more scientific).

[For those of you that get excited about new marketing phrases, I should define emotion quanta as bundles of information that are addressing an audience’s state of emotions. But the important thing here is the concept… think of the words of a marketing message as packages that are thrown from the medium – say the TV – directly to your emotional mind. If you could figure out where these words “hit”, which emotions they “tickle”, you would have a great way to measure this message. An the great news here is that us, humans, are amazing at making these kinds of evaluations!].

This is probably easier to explain through an example:

Let’ say that it is 2010, and you are the head of marketing at Apple Inc. Your job is to introduce to the world the new iPhone 4! By any standards this is the dream marketing job! Remember that at the time the iPhone was the fastest, most beautiful, most efficient, most safe, most established and most desired smartphone in the world, with the most apps available for it, and the most respected brand name behind it. Everything about this product – at least from a marketing perspective – was nearly perfect!

The single tricky part of the job is this:

How do you position such a beast of a phone? How do you make it stand out when talking about any one feature of it will surely devalue all the other awesome features that you don’t want to leave behind? What will be your “handle” to get this product launched towards your hungry audience, ensuring it will be devoured – as it deserves to be?

Well, you have seen the ads. Although a proportion of app-based messaging was introduced to “push” certain aspects of the phone to certain audiences, the majority of iPhone’s ads used a key “ground level” message that revolved around FaceTime!

Basically video calling – and not very good video-calling at that… Facetime only worked when the customer was within a broadband Wi-Fi environment… and all that hassle (especially if I think how terrible the broadband connection is where I live – but that is another story) when the same service had already been available with other companies (and especially in Japan) for the longest time (a decade or more I believe). There was nothing new there…

So why – oh why, these allegedly very intelligent people at Apple’s marketing department decided to do this to their campaigns? Why such a mediocre feature was selected over everything else?

[ I should note here that some have argued that the Facetime adverts could show the smartphone at its best. With retina display and the super processor working their magic to produce a smooth result, this was definitely not a bad choice…

Personally, I think that this is right, but only represents a small part of the story.]

I believe Apple’s marketing department chose video calling for all the right reasons. Yes, indeed, iPhone can be heralded as the bearer of extraordinary gifst – the beginning of the era of hi-res video calling (no granular images and no struggle to see the other person any more). Yet I think that most importantly this video calling service gives Apple’s marketing department a wondrous tool:

The ability to show people’s faces when selling it!

Literatrue is full of documented neuro-science facts about how faces have an incredible ability to convey emotion-messaging. Faces give marketers the ability to convey people’s situations and emotional states. When you show people, you can emotionally charge the story – ensuring you leave a lasting impression that will stay in place until the audience hits the shops the next day!

So let’s look at what Apple did from the point of emotion quanta…

By showing dads talking to their children from afar, Apple was first of all selling to the parents’ guilt (saying: “buy this because your children are missing you, and this will make sure they will see more of you”). Marketers will be familiar with this concept from the good old days of Encyclopedia Britannica’s selling success.

When dads talk to their childres, Apple is selling a father missing his children – and vice versa; a situation to which we can all relate (as parents or children), a story which “talks” to us at a very deep emotional level.

And I don’t think that that is where the story stops either!

If you wear your emotion marketing glasses, you will see that in the US the iPhone ads were all about love and loss (much, much more than what they did in the UK, where overstatements of emotion are in danger of going against the grain). Love and loss are very strong emotions, on which you can sell a product, and with which practically everyone can relate.

This is both wonderful and awful trickery, but it works!

In one advert that really stood out from that respect, a lovely Asian lady (attractive to all men and easy to identify with for ethnic minorities in the Western world) is sharing her 12 week pregnancy scan images with the father over the iPhone (never mind that phones are typically not allowed in hospitals)… a father who happens to be a soldier in Afghanistan… who also happens to be deaf (they communicate with sign language – implying to our emotional intelligence – which is not very clever at the best of times – that this father would have no other way to share that moment, other than the iPhone!

Forgetting for a minute that inclusiveness messaging of the adverts, the true value earned from a marketing perspective is in the bombardment of weapons grade emotional quanta delivered to the audience. Parental guilt. Love. Feeling of longing. A happy family. Inclusivenes… Buy iPhones to be truly emotionally complete!

Most other Apple ads also revolved around emotionally charged situations. And their marketing department has earned its keep. There is no app or processor speed, or immunity to viruses, or anything else that can ever deliver such powerful messages. Tugging at the audiences emotions will always be a winner.

So, to come back to our point…

Looking for emotion quanta in marketing messages can be an extremely helpful way for us to understand how we are selling. It is a rough method, and we have to account for the different ways in which people interpret these messages, but it can surely help…

There is another example here that I think will be of use… have you seen the latest TV adverts from Andrex? The puppies (which were brilliant from the point of emotion marketing as we are all hard-wired to like small fluffy things) have now been replaced with animated CGI puppies…

Was this a good idea? Are we as likely to bring with us the “awrrr wasn’t that loverrrly?” emotion of the first TV ads to the supermarket?

I don’t know. What I do know though is that I now have a tool that helps me as some good questions I think.. and that can only be a good thing!

So, next time you see an advert that you really like (or dislike) it should be easier to know why. Just think of what emotional tugging the advert is doing, and you will most likely see the whole thing in a very different light.