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Let’s embrace the irrational

If you think about your favourite ads, it’s likely that they stir emotions in you, be they happiness, excitement, or even fear or anger. These powerful emotions help us form an attachment to the brand. Les Binet and Peter Field’s comprehensive analysis of the IPA Databank (The Long and the Short of It; Brand Success in the Digital Age) demonstrates that brands that communicate on an emotional, rather than rational, level enjoy far greater success in the long term.

It makes sense. When we have a strong bond or emotional attachment with people, football clubs, foods, music (the list goes on) we don’t rationalise our relationship with them. We don’t often give consideration to whether we should alter our relationship with these emotive pillars in our lives. So long as the emotional prompts continue, the bond grows stronger and habits form.

It’s the same with brands. If we’re emotionally tied to a brand, our decision to purchase it requires little thought and undergoes little rationalisation. Brands that create a bond create a habit.

What’s less documented is the flip-side of this equation.

A lot of categories are driven by advertising that tries to ‘seal the deal’ by giving the product details in all their minute glory. The idea of a new car, for example, can fill us with longing, until it comes to the hard-sell press ad, complete with finance deal, four-year warranty and model spec.

A brand manager will often believe that there’s a distinct role for brand ads and a distinct role for response ads, but this assumes that those in the market for a new phone or new car recognise this neat division. They don’t. They just see ads, some of which they like, and lots that they don’t.

Brands that regularly communicate rational messages sound defensive, like the nervous suspect, needing to explain themselves over and over again. Binet and Field’s analyses show that the communication of rational messages, be they focussed on price or product features, is detrimental to long-term brand success.

By communicating rational messages, we ask our consumers to engage with our brands on a rational level. We ask them to rationalise their relationship with our brands. In highly-competitive markets, this is rarely a good idea.

Moreover, rational messaging calls for greater measurement of short-term effects. This will prove detrimental to the growth and understanding of our most measurable media channels; with UK digital ad-spend set to pass £7bn in the UK in 2014, it’s vital that we measure how digital media contributes to long-term brand success. The more we understand about the role digital plays, the better we can help brands to grow.

If we only consider the impact of what we do in terms of click-through rates, or immediate payback through sales or web visits, we limit our understanding of the effectiveness of our digital campaigns and what they might contribute to our brands’ growth. If we only focus on the short-term metrics, we’re complicit in stifling our brands’ long-term growth.