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Was It Good For You? Getting Customers to Feel Something About Your Product

Two of the biggest giants in advertising appeared to have had seemingly contradictory points of view of how to best get people to buy stuff.
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Two of the biggest giants in advertising appeared to have had seemingly contradictory points of view of how to best get people to buy stuff.

David Ogilvy was a firm believer in exhaustive research to generate a rational appeal to consumers. One of his favorite mottos was "the more you tell, the more you sell." In contrast, William Bernbach aimed for the emotions. He said, "You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen... you've got to say it in such a way that people feel it in their gut."

I think they're both right, but I'd give a bigger nod to Bernbach. Ogilvy understood that you have to get to know where the consumer is coming from. Who are they? What do they want out of life? What are their dreams and desires as well as their fears and anxieties? It's important to know why somebody may want your product.

But there is very little rationality in why we buy something. And that's why Bernbach's emotional approach to marketing is closer to the mark.

Take the most common consumer products: clothes, cars and homes. JP Morgan said that we make decisions for two reasons: the "good" reason and the "real" reason. Consider clothes. They protect us from the elements and fulfill a social contract to shield certain parts of our bodies from the prying eyes of others. Those are all truthful, valid, factual and good reasons. But do we spend the minimum amount of money just to keep ourselves warm in the winter and cover our private parts? Hardly.

We spend inordinate sums because of how clothes make us feel about ourselves -- powerful, sexy, creative, casual, funky, artsy, whatever. Clothes also send a message to others, "This is how I want you to feel about me." Same goes for cars, homes and one more thing: food. Surely, we are more than willing to open up our wallets for food that goes under the categories of "junk" or "comfort." Why? Because they change our mood, help us to feel better and it tastes good. Sometimes we even try to impress others with our choice of a wine or whisky. My point is advertising is not about what we think about a product but how we feel about it.

Even products that are endowed with lots of engineering and science have a strong emotional component attached to them. What are the first words that come up when you think of Dell computers? Competent, correct or perhaps another adjective pops up -- one that substitutes the "e" in Dell with a "u?"

Ask the same question about Apple. Cool is the word that comes to mind for me. The series featuring the Mac guy vs. the PC guy? Come on, we all know it wasn't technology they were selling.

This is not to suggest that practicality has no place in consumer choice -- price, and reliability are certainly important. But those concrete motives carry even more weight when placed in the context of how smart you are in getting a great product at a great price.

Purchasing something is largely about the experience attached to the product. But it has to be about the product. The much talked about Super Bowl ad for Chrysler featuring Clint Eastwood certainly got a lot of attention but for whom? Clint? Detroit? America? Obama? Oh, yeah, it was supposed to be for an American carmaker that's actually owned by Fiat, an Italian company. They ad certainly got a lot of PR but I'm not sure how many people went to Chrysler dealers the next day.

The ads that offend me the most are the ones that are not about the customer but about the client. I can't stomach one more local car dealer commercial that features the dealer owner making a fool of himself. Sometimes these ads include family members or pets. I wonder if the copywriter cares about me as a potential customer or is just sucking up to the vanity of the client.

The art of persuasion is more about getting someone to feel something differently than he, or she, did before. It's just as true whether we're talking about selling beer or presidential candidates. We vote for people whom we think understand us, see life from our vantage point, and identify what we want out of our lives. Americans are not ideological. We voted for Republicans for twelve years (Reagan, Bush), than for a Democrat (Clinton), back to a Bush(twice), and then finally veered left for Obama. Policy differences? Hardly. It was more about how we felt about them and their ability to connect with us. George W. seemed more comfortable in his own skin than either Gore or Kerry.

A wise man once said: "Logic is the slave to emotions." He could have been a great copywriter.

Bob Berkowitz is a Principal with The Dilenschneider Group, a New York based strategic communications firm. His specialty is helping clients to improve their ability to persuade others.