In the era of big data and AI, does creativity still matter in advertising?
My all-time favorite movie is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, to carbon-date myself, I saw it on its opening weekend in glorious 70mm SuperPanavision at Mike Todd’s Cinestage in Chicago.
Every film buff knows the story: epic, multiyear voyage to Jupiter goes awry when the spaceship’s onboard, talking supercomputer, HAL-9000, decides that his flawed human crewmates are threatening the mission and determines in his merciless logic that they must be eliminated.
HAL prematurely and fatally thaws out the crewmen who are slumbering in suspended animation during the long journey. He then tricks poor Dr. Frank Poole into taking a spacewalk outside the ship to repair a faulty communications device. In short order, HAL attacks Poole with his own space pod, severing his air hose and leaving him to drift helplessly into the blackness of space, slowly suffocating.
Commander Dave Bowman, seeing all this, risks his own life to reenter the spaceship, whereupon he sets about disconnecting HAL from the ship’s operating system.
Knowing what’s up, HAL at first tries to intimidate and then reason with Bowman to stop shutting him down. As Bowman continues his task, unplugging HAL’s memory units one at a time, the computer finally plays his last card: naked, human emotion. He says simply and poignantly:
Stop, Dave. I’m afraid.
It doesn’t work – Bowman shuts him down good – but that’s not really my point.
My point is that when it mattered most, even an unfeeling, mechanical entity such as HAL-9000 turned to emotion to communicate.
And that’s why data, algorithms, VR, AR, AI, facial recognition, etc., will never replace the human element in advertising. When it comes down to it, we are living, breathing, feeling organisms communicating with each other. Hoping to be heard. Longing to understand, to be understood, to be accepted.
With that in mind, here are my Five Things about how to use emotion in advertising:
Always, always, always tell the truth. Nothing else matters if you don’t get this one right.
Don’t be afraid to poke a little fun at yourself. People relate to imperfection, even in a company or brand. (This doesn’t necessarily apply to products. But if you mess up, fess up quickly and you may be surprised how forgiving people are.)
Making an emotional appeal doesn’t preclude using data and insights to help you craft your message. The more you know about your customer and how they live their lives, the more relevant and persuasive your message can be.
Don’t underestimate your audience’s emotional intelligence. In other words, you don’t need a laugh track to get the joke.
Finally: When working with an agency, remember that the people you’ve hired to uncover and develop all these rich emotional expressions for you can be a little emotional themselves; that’s how they process all the information you’ve provided them. It can get messy at times. But assume positive intent, and you’re a lot more likely to build a brand people can believe in than you might otherwise.
Of course, I may be biased. After all, I’m only human.