Brand Strategy

Heartstring Wars – The Festive Season Battleground

Posted 24 Nov 2020
Heartstring Wars – The Festive Season Battleground

Is there a brand Santa Claus?

Just before I answer that, it may be worth mentioning that marketing commentators seem to agree that eliciting an emotion in advertising is a good thing but do not say why other than, “it’s brand building.” There are three main science-based reasons for emotion in advertising. They are:

  1. The brand seeks to build a long-term neural pathway between an emotion and the brand to facilitate affective choice,
  2. The brand seeks to provide an emotional detonator for considered choice (as opposed to affective), and
  3. The brand seeks to build salience and distinctiveness by laying down new or strengthening existing memories.

Maybe there are other reasons given for eliciting an emotion in marketing communications (winning creative awards, earned media/publicity), but let’s look at the body of knowledge relating emotion to driving behavioral change. After that, we can apply the science to review some festive season spots and decide for ourselves, if there is indeed a brand Santa Claus. First the science:

Table 1 How brands can achieve this 1 2048x1937

Identifying the emotion most associated with the consumption/use in your category and achieving mastery in eliciting that emotion in all marketing communication and media (ranging from linear television to the endcap at the supermarket) will bring neural benefits.

Returning now to the brand Santa Claus. What about those festive season campaigns designed to elicit a deep emotional response – designed to move you to tears? The ones I am referring to have little or no rational message.

UK department store John Lewis & Partners is widely acknowledged as the pioneer of the long-form, pure emotional, festive season “carol.” Proponents argue that for the Western world during the festive season, consumers are in a state of heightened emotions and therefore, more susceptible to emotional communication. Are consumers really on the brink of tears of joy while going about their business leading up to Christmas and Hanukkah, just waiting for a brand to leave them a blithering mess? Perhaps it would be useful to put aside any ideological reasons for emotion in advertising and stick to just the science.

For comparison, I would like to look at the two heavyweights in the Australian discount department store category. First some background; one chain, BigW is in the midst of closing 30 stores meanwhile, Kmart has built an unassailable lead based on eliciting the primary emotion that mums most associate with the category. The lead has been built up over the past decade. Below are the two 2020 festive season spots. Clearly one is intended to be brand building and the other based on a communications Triple Play of emotion and two reasons to believe – price and quality.

Triple Play Annual Sales 1 1727x2048

Festive season spots – Pure Emotion Versus Brand Building + Activate Now?

How does each spot perform on delivering on an emotional objective?

Table 2 2048x1844

Too many creatives believe that if the communication elicits an emotion – any emotion the job is done. They justify no immediate change in sales by a delayed, “long” effect explanation – at Forethought we call this the “funnel alibi.” Most of the big, emotional, festive season anthems are unhinged from either short or long-term effects and seem to operate outside the rules of business accountability. I am afraid that there is no brand Santa Claus. Apologies if that has come as a jolt.

Ken Roberts, Chairman Forethought