What do the modern-day consumer and the primal human have in common? They are both driven by emotion. Today, technology is embedded into our lives, but that does not mean we are limited by our digital devices. We are, and always have been, inspired by information, but influenced by our emotions. We process and digest branded content, not by our heads, but by our hearts. The influx of emotional content in recent years begs the question:
What if we viewed technology not as a barrier, but as a conduit for human connection?
Humanization — now, more than ever — is sought throughout branded content. To humanize content is to breathe life into marketing material. Every day, we are waist-deep in digital advances, and while that can be a bit disconcerting, disrupting the digital day-to-day with emotional content throws us the reassuring life jacket that we’re still all in this together. In more cases than not, we are emotional beings following our hearts. That cannot be overlooked or underestimated. Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor once wrote, “We live in a world where are taught from the start that we are thinking creatures that feel. The truth is, we are feeling creatures that think.”
We know that humans are innate storytellers. And conversely, story listeners. Still, what is it about stories that open our hearts? The answer is twofold. It is delving into and reiterating what it means to be human through a range of emotions. And it is relating to the universal human experience. The part of the story that we love most, is the part we most relate to. Otherwise, a story or marketing campaign reads like a joke with no punch line – it holds no resonance.
Storytelling is a fundamental component to brand communication. If the brand does not effectively communicate their story to an intended audience, why should someone buy the product or use the service? We view our decisions as an extension of ourselves, and we want that reflected in our brand choices.
It is for this reason that we come to understand the role that emotions play in humanizing marketing content. The days of the cynical advertising trope are behind us. Whereas snarky, sarcastic marketing swayed users in previous decades, emotional content now rules. In the past— when digital distractions were not so pervasive —human connection showed itself in a multitude of different ways. People didn’t seek out emotional connection to their brands, because their emotional fulfillment was always right in front of them. The digital age has presented a shift. Now, people want real. They want to feel connected and they want to know that they are not alone. When humanization is injected into a brand campaign or content, it is unequivocally great. It is feelings of inclusion, of community of happiness and sadness that lead to purchases far beyond what the brain can comprehend.
The beauty of emotional branding is that there is no bad emotion. We’ve all seen the heart-wrenching commercial where Sarah McLachlan sings Angel over a montage of devastating photographs and video clips of abused animals. The commercial was so effective that it went on to become the ASPCA’s most successful fundraising tool, raising well over 30 million dollars and counting. Sadness is a universal emotion with tremendous pull on our heartstrings. And with great emotional outreach, comes tremendous marketing success. Empathy brings out a desire for connection, and when we connect with a brand or message, we stick with it. We share the things we love, and this is how customer loyalty is built.
Effective emotional content is universal. It is not the language we speak, but rather our feelings that transcend barriers. Across the globe, no one is immune to the raw power of emotion. People want to see people. People want to know that other people are thinking of them. Everyone knows that a digitally-driven world can open the doors to isolation. For this reason, emotional content is reigning supreme across so many industries. The Huffington Post even dedicated an entire vertical to human connection. This universal desire to connect with others is why emotional content branding works.
In 2016, Amazon created a campaign around kneepads. Here’s how it earned the coveted “Most Emotional Ad of 2016,” title. The ad is barely over a minute, and beautifully conveys an unlikely friendship across cultures. An elderly Priest and Imam get together over coffee. They are laughing and enjoying each other’s company, but both seem to struggle with weak knees from kneeling for prayer. After a warm hug, the Imam leaves and the two men appear to be deep in thought. On their own, the priest and imam take to their phones to order one another a gift from Amazon Prime. The next day, the Amazon delivery man hands them both a package – inside is knee pads. The two smile, laugh, and cherish their identical gifts. This is inclusion, encouragement, friendship, support and celebrating of differences. This is emotional content branding embodied.
In digital marketing, we often turn to Maslow’s hierarchical pyramid of needs to figure out how to best communicate the ways in which a brand can meet the needs of their targeted audience. At its foundation, lives our physiological needs – air, food, sleep, and sex. However, the higher up the pyramid, the shift focuses from purely survival to more emotional. At the tip of the pyramid of needs, lives self-realization. Self-realization is unique in that it is a highly subjective, perpetually changing need. It is perception-based and looks different to every user. It is the desire to be better, to work on oneself and to realize one’s full potential. It is an endless search for the best version of oneself.
Bowen partnered with FREE, whose mission is to assist individuals of all abilities in realizing their full potential. There is scientific evidence that proves that images focusing on human faces, particularly smiling faces, creates a genuine sense of trustworthiness within a brand or company. FREE’s original website featured a few images of individuals within their various programs. Bowen curated a gallery of FREE’s original images depicting groups of people together – promoting inclusion, friendship, happiness and connection in line with their various missions. Though they had an amazing Drum & Bugle Corps program, it wasn’t highlighted on their website. We wanted to convey the powerful and contagious energy that the members of the Drum & Bugle Corps bring, not only to every audience they entertain, but also to each other. We created a page featuring a video of rehearsals and performances in action, filled with rousing crowd applause and support, bringing beaming smiles to the members' faces. We also showcased the unique skills and roles that each invaluable section brings to the Drum & Bugle Corps. It was essential that we showed FREE’s members living up to and exceeding their potential with smiles from ear to ear.
Additionally, Bowen helped to create the styles and vision for the various ways in which FREE’s Moments4smiles campaign could unfold. The Moments4smiles goal is to, “…bring global awareness to the fact that all humans are very much alike, despite the way they look, their background, or any other superficial characteristics that may divide us.” The hashtag was created to “create an online community of people who are interested in sharing what makes them smile, and also seeing what brings joy to others from around the world.” This is emotional branding in action.
People long for connection; and technological advances do not have to build up barriers, but rather open doors for further entry points towards unity. We are drawn to emotional, humanizing content and through a network of likes, reblogs, comments and shares – we are creating and strengthening our digital tribe every day. Special human-centered moments have always existed, we are now given a multitude of ways to document and distribute them. We are as emotionally complex as we were before the smartphone was invented. And we have emotional content to thank for acknowledging that at the very heart of it, we are emotional beings who think.