Rational vs. Emotive Marketing – Which Is Best for Global Audiences?

Rational vs. Emotive Marketing – Which Is Best for Global Audiences?

The relative merits of basing marketing communications on rational logic or emotional appeal is an ongoing debate, particularly within the advertising industry.

The rational approach uses marketing to try to prove the product’s quality and usefulness by listing the product’s benefits, or quoting facts or statistics. By contrast, emotive marketing instead appeals directly to a consumer’s emotional state, needs and aspirations.

Some countries have a stronger tradition of advertisers emphasising one approach above another. It isn’t clear if this is due to force of habit or if marketers have chosen approaches with proven effectiveness for that consumer group.

Compared to more rational advertising in the US and Vietnam, which tends to appeal to consumer logic, Japanese and French adverts tend to be emotional and less concerned with informing the consumer. US ads have often been described as using a ‘lecture’ format, so seriously do they take the role of informing the consumer. This means US ads are more functional and informative than ads in places like Europe, which aim to inspire emotional connection from their audiences.

It’s possible to find sources arguing for and against the value of emotive advertising. Marketing neuroscientist Roger Dooley argues that ads based on emotion are more effective , however Ad Age journal has argued the reverse.

What seems to be true is that brands that manage to get consumers to associate their brand with superior emotional benefits compared to competitor brands can build a stronger relationship with consumers and enjoy greater market share and profitability. Delivering emotional benefits means brands can charge a premium over more functional rivals. An obvious example is Coke, a global brand selling what is essentially sugary water. The soft drink’s functional benefits of delivering refreshment and relieving thirst are never referenced by the brand, which focuses instead on delivering emotional benefit across all its markets.

Advertising in Asia

There have recently been attempts to assess the effectiveness of advertising to Asian audiences by using scientific methods of study. The study by AsiaEmotion attempts to gauge responses to advertising using facial imaging technology in order to reveal how people feel as they watch video commercials for products such as beer, noodles and shampoo. The study looked at consumers across a range of Asian countries, including China and India, and others such as Vietnam and Indonesia.

The AsiaEmotion study claims to prove that engaging emotions TV ads generated a more powerful audience response and had much better brand impact than functional alternatives. Whilst some people in marketing continue to defend the merits of functional advertising, the AsiaEmotion felt that this was an outdated debate. In their view, advertising is either emotionally engaging or else it is dull and ineffective.

The survey also found that advertisers were failing to maximise their advertising effectiveness. In Indonesia in particular advertising tended to be functional and was missing many opportunities to engage emotionally with the audience. More significantly, Indonesian advertisers were missing opportunities to stand out in a market filled with ineffective TV ads that lacked emotional resonance.

However effective this study may have proved emotive advertising to be, it also showed that it was difficult to get right.  Men and women tend to show significant differences in their responses to advertising. Although Asian advertising very often includes celebrity endorsements, it was also clear this wasn’t always unilaterally effective to all audiences. Facial imaging results seemed to show that even very popular celebrities weren’t necessarily effective with all audience members. Even if emotional advertising works, it’s difficult to do well. It could be argued that functional advertising is less tricky and this may be why it is the preferred approach, particularly in less sophisticated advertising markets and for advertisers on low budgets.

Coke is a company that never lacks advertising budget. This brand sticks to emotional advertising across all the markets in which is operates. As a consequence it needs to tailor most of its advertising to local markets to suit the culture. One of their recent campaigns attempted to bring troubled neighbours India and Pakistan together using the message ‘share a Coke’. In tumultuous Thailand, Coke chose a different approach and encouraged Thai consumers to share their personal stories of overcoming difficulties in the ‘million reasons to believe in Thailand’ campaign. These campaigns were both far riskier and more difficult to pull off than functional advertising would have been however the uplift was significant because the campaigns attracted so much attention.


Why Consumers Buy

It’s really difficult to get emotional advertising right, particularly if you aren’t native to the market you are trying to engage with. Tom Doctoroff, author of “What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and China’s Modern Consumer” and China CEO of JWT advertising company, identified that Chinese consumers had different purchasing motivations compared to a US consumer audience. Any emotional advertising campaign needed to understand that the motivations in China were fundamentally different those in western markets, no matter how much consumer ambition they seem to share.

“In Chinese society, individuals have no identity apart from obligations to, and acknowledgement by, others,” he wrote for the Wall Street Journal. Products intended for public consumption in public, such as mobile phones or watches, could command huge price premiums relative to goods for private use, such as home wares. When purchasing home wares or any goods for private consumption, Chinese consumers were ferocious at minimising spend.

Doctoroff identified the tendency for Chinese consumers to buy luxury brands in order to display status rather than for enjoyment. For this reason, luxury ice cream brand Häagen Dazs weren’t successful at marketing expensive cartons of ice cream for home consumption but built a huge franchise network based on public consumption of the expensive treat in cafes.

Because of these consumer attitudes, it was essential that products needed to be marketed for their external benefits rather than internal ones. In terms of car advertising, this means advertising a car as a symbol of the person’s ambition rather than Western-style individual fulfilment. In China, Pizza Hut doesn’t suggest children are taken to their restaurants to enjoy the food but rather to celebrate an academic success.

Doctoroff suggests that whilst both US and Chinese consumers crave wealth, for the American consumer it is because wealth brings freedom and fulfilment. For the Chinese consumer, it brings control over their life. These are quite different emotional impulses to meet in marketing terms. Any brand wishing to attempt an emotional connection with its audience via advertising needs a very good understand of cultural motivations if it has any chance of success.

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