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Emotional branding and why nobody cares

Here’s an inspirational message: most people couldn’t care less about the work that agencies and marketers produce, every day.

And why would they?

The brain is an electric hive of activity, and we spend our days thinking about very important things, like:

  • “I’m cold.”
  • “Is it too early to eat my sandwich?”
  • “Where’s my life going?”

Brands, products and campaigns barely make a dent. The Havas group did some research, finding most consumers ‘wouldn’t care’ if 74% of brands they used simply… disappeared. Brutal.

adam&eve Global Planning Partner Sarah Carter has the classic line:

“People’s indifference should be the starting place. There should be a post-it on every planner’s desk saying: they don’t give a shit”.

On that bombshell, let’s dive in.

Why ‘logical’ messages fall flat.

Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize-winning work, written up in the seminal book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ found we spend a tremendous 95% of our mental being in an emotional, intuitive state where we are led by feelings, not thoughts.

You’d think you could just explain away the features and the rational reasons why the product is so amazing – and the wallets would come out. Kahneman found messages like these only hit a tiny 5% of our brain activity. This approach alone will always struggle to penetrate consumers’ ‘wall of indifference’.

That’s not to say we should never call out features and benefits, but there is a balance. Emotional messages make you want the thing. The rational messaging gives you permission to buy it (likely further into the purchase).

To quote legendary Creative Director, Dave Trott:

“Every purchase decision is a combination of ‘desire’ and ‘permission’. Without those two elements nothing happens. If you want to buy something, but you can’t justify it in any way, you don’t buy it. If you can justify buying something, but you don’t want it, you don’t buy it.

He continues:

“With everything, from a chocolate bar to perfume, there has to be desire, and there has to be permission.”

On this note, there is a lot to be said for expressing the functional stuff, in an emotional way. Sony did this wonderfully – packaging their waterproof headphones in a full water bottle, selling them in gym vending machines. It caters to the 95%. It gets noticed. It gets remembered. Which brings me on to my next point…


You don’t have to be the ‘best’, just the best remembered.

Genuine ‘USPs’ are rare. Usually, we aren’t working with the tastiest, the fastest or the cheapest product. So, selling on merit is tricky, and leads marketers down an impossible path of seeking out teeny tiny subtleties between their offering and the rest of the competition (that, again, people usually don’t care about).

Instead, our role is to make the brand feel right. Sharpie aren’t famous for being the ‘best’ pens. They’re famous because their ads show they’re the pen David Beckham uses to sign his autographs. It makes them feel like the right brand.

Creating these associations is key to being remembered, and being remembered is key to being bought. Ehrenberg Bass found only 3 – 5% of consumers are actually in the market to buy right now. The other 95 – 97% won’t be interested in buying for (depending on the category / buyer) potentially years, which is why the majority of ROI happens over 6 months.

If you really dumb it down, our job is to make brands memorable. To give brands a good reason to occupy a corner of somebody’s mind. But that real estate isn’t given away lightly – it takes something emotive to make an impact and stand the test of time. The consumer is never going to remember some trivial, rational benefits a few years down the line.

Which is why ‘raising awareness’ is often too simplistic. We aren’t just making people ‘aware’. We should be linking the brand to something deeper: a need state (hungry = Snickers), an occasion (pint in Dublin = Guinness) or a feeling (e.g. Cadbury’s = joy).



Nobody gives a damn. It’s a grounding (deflating) concept. But also, a liberating one.

Starting from the idea that nobody cares is invigorating. Because the challenge becomes about making people care. Which supercharges the approach. It leaves no place for weak, mediocre messages. It means we simply have to be bolder and braver, and push the boundaries. To produce work that is entertaining, fun and weird.

Which is why creativity leads to commercial effectiveness. Creativity isn’t the ‘fluffy’, ‘fun’ part at the end. It’s the way we stick in our audience’s heads, and why our work is fiercely effective.

To summarise: nobody cares. So be extraordinary.